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Week Four Friday 10-pack

It’s Friday morning.  And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.

So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.

It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.


1.  Jets could soon be soaring.

After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool
), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals.  And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
suspension.

So what happens when those guys come back?

The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.

Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division.  Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.

2.  Last chance for Mangini?

The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games.  But they’ve lost each one.

After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints.  Then comes the bye week.

As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini.  And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.

If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

3.  Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.

With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.

Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.

Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome.  Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger.  When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.

4.  Team of destiny wanted.

Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things.  New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26.  Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.

The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four.  By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.

This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently.  The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three.  The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
points.

The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.

For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday.  If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.

Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.

5.  Time for Texans to prove themselves.

When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason.  But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.

So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?

Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.

6.  Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.

Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.

The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool.  (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day.  And it’s not even 1966.)

The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks.  Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience.  (On NBC.)

With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.

And who knows?  Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process.  More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.

7.  Fins, Pats face “must” wins.

Yeah, it’s only Week Four.  But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.

The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2.  Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
division.

The Patriots need this one, too.  But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home.  For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.

8.  Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.

The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago.  With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.

Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer.  Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.

And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality.   Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
position.

With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.

9.  Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.

For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins.  And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.

After two years, Norv Turner was dumped.  (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.)  Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season.  Steve
Spurrier made it for two.  But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years.  Jim Zorn lasted only two.

And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
franchise.

In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys.  But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.

It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.

Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games.  After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
again.

It all easily could add up to a losing season.  Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses.  And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.

Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year.  Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
list.

10.  Rams have a chance to make some noise.

Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.

Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.

This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.

If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a  three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.

With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye.  And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.

Sure, they likely won’t win the division.  But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.

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Report: Jason Pierre-Paul to return to Giants next week

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has kept his distance from the Giants since the July 4 fireworks accident that led to the amputation of his right index finger and a fractured right thumb, but things may be changing next week.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports that Pierre-Paul will return to the Giants next week. Pierre-Paul has not signed the franchise tag, which pays $14.813 million, placed on him by the Giants this offseason, which means his presence hasn’t been mandatory. That hasn’t made the Giants very happy, but there isn’t much they could do about it other than rescind the franchise tag and make Pierre-Paul a free agent.

Per Graziano, Pierre-Paul thinks he’s close to that point and that he will be able to get on the field with the team “early in the season.” The Giants, whose doctors have yet to examine Pierre-Paul, will surely have something to say about that timeline.

How he’ll be able to play once everyone agrees he’s ready for action is another question and one that obviously can’t be answered at this point. We do know that the Giants could use the Pierre-Paul of past years to fortify their defense’s chances of rebounding from a poor 2014 season.

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Is Dwayne Bowe on the Browns’ roster bubble?

2015 Cleveland Browns Mini Camp Practice Getty Images

The Browns signed Dwayne Bowe to a two-year deal last March that included $9 million guaranteed. That should, ahem, guarantee Bowe a roster spot despite the soon to be 31-year old wide receiver missing nearly three weeks of training camp with a sore hamstring and not catching a preseason pass from starting quarterback Josh McCown.

But the Browns have a crowded receiving corps despite not having a true No. 1 receiver, and entering Thursday night’s preseason finale there’s still some uncertainty as to which receivers will make the final roster.

Solomon Wilcots, who works for NFL Network but is paid by the Browns to call preseason games on Cleveland television, appeared on the team’s official pregame radio show Thursday afternoon and hinted that Bowe is not a lock to make the roster.

“He needs to deliver (tonight),” Wilcots said. “After talking to the coaches he needs to show up tonight to be a part of the 53-man roster (this weekend).”

Wilcots didn’t say which coaches to whom he’d spoken, but his words at very least make for an interesting discussion. The Browns also have a decision coming on Terrelle Pryor, who’s trying to transition from quarterback to wide receiver but has yet to play in a preseason game.

Pryor is supposed to play in the preseason finale, but Browns coach Mike Pettine said this week that Pryor doesn’t necessarily have to play to make the 53-man roster.

Brian Hartline, another veteran receiver acquired in the offseason, is going to make the team. Andrew Hawkins and return specialist Travis Benjamin are going to make the team, too. Second-year receiver Taylor Gabriel and Bowe probably make the team, but fourth-round rookie Vince Mayle has had a tough camp.

Pryor is the wildcard and Marlon Moore is listed as a wide receiver but last year was a core special teams player. So, that’s eight players for six or seven spots — and seven probably only make it if Moore makes it.

The Browns earlier this week released defensive tackle Phil Taylor despite Taylor having more than $5.4 million guaranteed. Taylor had offseason knee surgery and might not be healthy enough to play this season.

Another expensive cut seems unlikely, but what Wilcots said at least adds a little intrigue to Thursday night’s preseason finale and the roster moves that will come in the 30 or so hours that follow.

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NFL could win Brady appeal

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As I said before Judge Berman ruled on Tom Brady’s suspension, anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in a court of law is lying or uninformed. Moving forward, I’ll say the same thing as it relates to the appeal of Judge Berman’s ruling.

No one knows what will happen, and anyone who claims that they know is lying or uninformed.

From a procedural standpoint, here’s what will happen, eventually. Of the 22 judges assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (located in New York), three will be randomly assigned to preside over the case. If only two of them agree with the NFL and disagree with Judge Berman, the NFL will win.

It’s that simple. Before the district court, it was an all-or-nothing argument to one judge and one judge only. On appeal, it’s a matter of persuading two of three judges.

The political backgrounds of those judges will be critical to the final ruling. If two of them were appointed by Republican presidents, chances are that they will be more inclined to agree with management. If, like Judge Berman, two of the judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, they could be inclined to agree with labor.

Indeed, there’s a good chance that one or more of the judges will have been involved with similar cases in the past, with their positions regarding the enforcement of arbitration agreements already firmly established, one way or the other.

In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, where I handled multiple cases while practicing law, the parties don’t even know who the judges are until the morning of the oral arguments. Ultimately, the outcome could hinge on which three judges are assigned to the case. Or, more accurately, which two judges get the assignment.

So the NFL could indeed win, although that victory may not come for a while. After that, the losing party would have to consider whether to file a petition for a rehearing before the entire Circuit. Eventually, the losing party will have to decide whether to attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

If the Supreme Court decides to make this case one of the very few it agrees to hear, it could be that the final answer comes multiple years from now, with the NFL possibly securing a victory after Tom Brady already has retired.

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T.J. Ward suspended one game under personal conduct policy

T.J. Ward AP

It looks like the Broncos are going to start the season without safety T.J. Ward in their secondary.

Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that Ward has been suspended one game under the league’s personal conduct policy. Per Garafolo, the suspension stems from an incident at a Denver strip club in May 2014 after Ward signed with the Bronos.

Ward was arrested after throwing a mug at a bartender who had poured out Ward’s drink after telling him that outside alcoholic beverages weren’t allowed inside the club. Ward struck a plea deal last August that called for assault charges to be dropped if he completed four hours of community service. It’s not clear why it took so long for the suspension to come into effect.

Ward started 15 games in his first season with the Broncos and is set to be a starter for the Broncos again this season. David Bruton will likely take his place in Week One alongside Darian Stewart.

UPDATE 4:05 p.m. ET: The Broncos have announced the suspension.

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Ex-Colt Josh McNary found not guilty in rape trial

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Former Colts linebacker Josh McNary took the stand in his rape trial on Wednesday to testify that he and his accuser had consensual sex last December and his testimony appears to have been given a lot of credit by the jury in the case.

McNary was found not guilty of rape, criminal confinement and battery charges after a relatively brief deliberation by the jury on Thursday. McNary’s attorney said, via the Indianapolis Star, that there was “overwhelming reasonable doubt” about the accusations and that McNary’s testimony in his own defense helped to make that case.

McNary called the trial a “traumatic” and “tragic” experience and said that he hoped to resume his playing career now that it has come to an end. McNary’s contract with the Colts expired in March and he was placed on the league’s Commissioner-Exempt list when the charges were filed in January, which kept him from practicing with the team or playing in the AFC Championship game.

McNary, who played college football at West Point, spent the last two seasons with the Colts. He played in 20 games and made four starts last season.

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De Smith: We never trust the NFL, Kraft shouldn’t have either

DeMaurice Smith AP

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith says Commissioner Roger Goodell has eroded trust not just with the players, but with owners as well.

As he celebrated the decisive victory given to Tom Brady and the NFLPA in today’s Deflategate ruling, Smith told CSN Mid Atlantic that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has learned what the players already knew: Goodell is not to be trusted.

We never make the mistake of trusting the league,” Smith said. “I don’t have the luxury of trusting the league. I think looking back on the statements of Mr. Kraft and the position of the Patriots, do I think they wish they had a do over? I think they probably wish they had a do over.”

Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.”

The legacy of Deflategate may be that it tarnishes Goodell’s reputation far more than it tarnishes Brady’s.

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Goodell won’t attend Thursday opener in Foxboro

Roger Goodell AP

Tom Brady will be in Foxboro next Thursday for the first game of the 2015 NFL season. Roger Goodell will not.

A few hours after a federal judge ruled that Goodell couldn’t suspend Brady for four games, the NFL confirmed that Goodell will be staying away from the Sept. 10 season opener between Brady’s Patriots and the Steelers.

Per Mike Garofolo of FOX Sports, Goodell won’t attend because he believes the focus should be on the game and festivities. In other words, he knows the reception he would receive from Patriots fans and believes it’s best to stay away.

Patriots-Steelers is the traditional season-opening game that’s played at the site of the defending Super Bowl champion and in front of a national TV audience. DeflateGate will still be a topic of conversation on the broadcast and in the days leading up to the game, but Goodell is hoping his absence will help make it a side story and not the focus of the broadcast.

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Marcus Mariota expected to start on Thursday night

Marcus Mariota, Justin Houston AP

On Tuesday, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he wasn’t sure whether quarterback Marcus Mariota would play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Vikings.

Whisenhunt said he didn’t think there was a magic number of reps for a player to take in order to be ready for the regular season although he did add, via the Tennessean, that “you defeat the purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish if you tell somebody he’s not playing in the game.” It seems that Whisenhunt has opted not to deliver that message to Mariota.

John Glennon of the Tennessean reports that Mariota is expected to be in the starting lineup against Minnesota. If that’s the case, the rest of the Titans starting offense is going to be in the game as well because the Titans aren’t going to compound the risk of injury to Mariota by sending him out there with backups doing the blocking, running and catching.

Mariota has completed 19-of-27 passes for 252 yards and an interception this summer while adding 17 more yards on five carries. Most of his work has come as a pocket passer, which was an area of concern heading into the draft. Mariota has looked solid, though, and you’d expect him to improve with more time running the offense, which may explain why the Titans would want to play him in a game that’s often left for players way down the depth chart.

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Robert Kraft: Now we can return our attention to the field

Robert Kraft, Tom Brady AP

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest NFL figure to issue a statement in response to Judge Richard Berman’s decision to overturn Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension.

It comes as no surprise that Kraft is happy with Berman’s ruling.

“As I have said during this process and throughout his Patriots career, Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity,” Kraft said. “He represents everything that is great about this game and this league. Yet, with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline. Judge Richard Berman understood this and we are greatly appreciative of his thoughtful decision that was delivered today. Now, we can return our focus to the game on the field.”

The lawyers at the league include chief counsel Jeff Pash. Judge Berman cited the inability to cross-examine Pash, who had a hand in editing the Wells investigation that the league called independent, as one of the reasons for vacating the suspension.

There will still be a few eyes on the courtroom with the NFL appealing the decision, although that’s not likely to have an impact on the field for the Patriots in 2015 since the league won’t be looking for a stay of the ruling. Berman’s ruling only pertains to Brady, so the Patriots will still have to fork over $1 million, their 2016 first-round pick and their 2016 fourth-round pick after Kraft opted to accept those penalties rather than fight the league earlier this year.

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NFL won’t seek a stay of Berman’s ruling, leaving Brady free to play

Tom Brady, Wes Horton AP

The NFL will appeal Judge Richard Berman’s decision to erase Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, but they reportedly won’t be trying to keep Brady off the field against the Steelers next week.

According to multiple reports, the league will not seek a stay of Berman’s ruling as part of their appeal. If they tried for and were granted a stay by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Brady’s suspension would remain in place pending a decision by that court.

With no stay, Brady will be free to play until and unless that decision comes back affirming the league’s right to suspend Brady. If things did go that way, Brady could conceivably wind up suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.

While the appeal means there’s still a lot of legal wrangling to come, it should be lower profile than what we’ve seen this summer. With Brady set to be on the field, the legal proceedings will likely take a backseat to the action in the stadiums.

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Vegas bumps line in wake of Brady ruling

Pamela Anderson And Chrissie Hynde Take Part In PETA's Dan Mathews Wedding To Jack Ryan Getty Images

There have been and are going to be responses from all around the football world to Judge Richard Berman’s decision to wipe out Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.

Some of those responses will be official, like the NFL’s notice of their plan to appeal the decision, and some will be less formal, like the victory lap that the Patriots are taking on Twitter Thursday. We’re not sure exactly where Las Vegas sportsbooks fall into that spectrum, but we do know that plenty of people are paying attention to them and that they were paying attention on Thursday morning.

VegasInsider.com has the lines from a variety of books and, as you’d expect, they show that the Patriots have become stronger favorites in the wake of the ruling. Most books had the Patriots as 3- or 3.5-point favorites coming into Thursday and they’ve now been bumped up to 6.5- or 7-point favorites with Brady now set to be in the lineup.

If enough bettors believe that the Patriots will be able to pour it on at home against a Steelers team that will be missing Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Martavis Bryant on offense and a remade defense in its first regular season game, that line will get even bigger over the next week.

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Greg Hardy considering an appeal of his four-game suspension

Greg Hardy AP

Not only did the NFL lose in court again today, they might have more court dates in their future.

According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy is conferring with NFLPA officials to determine whether he’ll appeal for a reduction of his already reduced four-game suspension.

With the Tom Brady ruling a significant win for the players union, they’re going to be emboldened to push every case, and Hardy has what could be considered a good one.

While his suspension was reduced from 10 games to four by arbitrator Harold Henderson, that’s also double the standard punishment for domestic violence under the old conduct policy — which was in place when Hardy was arrested in 2014 as a member of the Panthers.

But when commissioner Roger Goodell initially announced Hardy’s 10-game ban, he said it was for the broadly defined “conduct detrimental to the league” rather than the domestic violence itself.

With the wind blowing strongly in favor of players now, it only makes sense for them to raise sails and see how far they can go.

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Goodell: We disagree with the decision and will appeal

goodell AP

The NFL is not done fighting on Deflategate.

Hours after Judge Richard Berman vacated Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement saying the league disagrees with Berman’s ruling and will appeal.

“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision,” the statement said. “We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.”

An appeal could take a long time, so this is far from over. In fact, it’s entirely possible that if the NFL wins the appeal, it will be several months from now — and Brady will be suspended for four games in 2016.

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Berman: Goodell “may be said to have dispensed his own brand of industrial justice”

Roger Goodell AP

Judge Richard Berman did not directly address whether or not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was sufficiently impartial in his decision to uphold Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension on appeal, but he did take issue with the way Goodell wielded his power in the Thursday ruling nullifying the suspension.

While discussing reasons why a judge could overturn an arbitrator’s award under a collective bargaining agreement, Berman notes that an arbitrator “is not free to merely dispense his own brand of industrial justice.” He also notes that the “law of the shop” in the NFL is for players to be made aware of prohibited conduct and potential discipline, something that Berman finds the NFL did not do in regard to Brady. Furthermore, Berman cites former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s ruling in the Bountygate case that he knew of no cases where the NFL suspended a player for failing to cooperate with an investigation.

“Because there was no notice of a four-game suspension in the circumstances presented here, Commissioner Goodell may be said to have ‘dispense[d] his own brand of industrial justice,'” Berman writes in his decision.

Taken on top of Berman’s finding that the league’s investigation into the entire affair was not as independent as they maintained throughout the process, the ruling does much to cast doubt on the NFL’s process of and/or interest in reaching the fairest conclusion for all involved.

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Judge didn’t buy NFL’s claims that Ted Wells was “independent”

Brady AP

When the NFL first announced that Deflategate would be investigated, it hired Ted Wells to lead what the league termed an “independent” investigation. More than seven months later, Judge Richard Berman has made clear that he doubts Wells’s independence.

In his opinion vacating Tom Brady’s suspension, Berman put the word “independent” in quotation marks when he used it to refer to Wells’s investigation. And Wells made clear that he believes the NFL’s handling of Wells’s investigation was unfair to Brady, noting that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash was allowed to edit Wells’s report, while Brady was not allowed to question Pash.

“Denied the opportunity to examine Pash at the arbitral hearing, Brady was prejudiced. He was foreclosed from exploring, among other things, whether the Pash/Wells Investigation was truly ‘independent,’ and how and why the NFL’ s General Counsel came to edit a supposedly independent investigation report,” Berman wrote.

Berman also wrote that it was “seemingly inconsistent” for Wells’s law firm to act as counsel to the NFL while simultaneously conducting an “independent” investigation.

The NFL paid Wells millions to conduct its investigation. Judge Berman thinks that very fact shows Wells’s investigation lacks independence, because when someone is paying you millions of dollars, you’re probably going to tell them what they want to hear.

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