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Schaap tells Te’o’s story, who admits he never met fake, dead girlfriend

Manti Te'o, Jeremy Schaap AP

Under the guise of a “get,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap has been enlisted as an unofficial P.R. agent for linebacker Manti Te’o.  And Schaap spent extensive time on SportsCenter presenting Te’o’s side of the story, serving as the indirect mouthpiece for a man who claims no involvement in a hoax but who after months of talking freely and loosely on camera suddenly has no desire to do so.

Schaap opened his extensive on-air monologue by vouching for Te’o’s credibility.

“He answered every question I asked,” Schaap said.  “He didn’t seem nervous.  He seemed to be able to communicate clearly about everything that had happened over the course of several years in his relationship with Lennay Kekua.  To my ears, he made a very convincing witness in his own defense.  I’m sure people will form their own judgments when we have a chance to put out more of what he said.  I don’t know how many questions were asked, but as I said he answered all of them, really unflinchingly.  If he’s making up his side of the story, he’s a very convincing actor.  Of course, there were suggestions over the last couple of days — more than suggestions, theories posited — about whether he was a party to this hoax, if he just helped perpetuate this hoax.  He adamantly denies having anything to do with it, and I asked him directly about that.”

After Schaap explained the situation for roughly 10 minutes, he was asked about Te’o’s demeanor.

“He was very composed, he was very collected,” Schaap said.  “There wasn’t any hemming or hawing.  He certainly seemed to have his timeline down straight.  I did not detect any inconsistencies.  And I think, you know, significantly from his point of view anyway, when it was over he was relieved.  He said he was very relieved to have unburdened himself of this.”

Schaap vouched for Te’o’s  credibility once again in explaining why Te’o didn’t want to do the interview on camera.

“Obviously we would have preferred to do this on camera,” Schaap said.  “He felt more comfortable in a setting without cameras, felt he could be more relaxed without a lot of people in the room.  Wanted this to be as natural a setting as possible.  I think it would have been beneficial to him to do this on camera because as I said he was very composed and collected but that’s not what he wanted to do.  It’s not the first time somebody hasn’t wanted to do an interview on camera.”

Schaap is right, but it’s the first time the otherwise camera-eager Te’o has spurned a camera.  And so instead of giving the audience at large an opportunity to watch him explain himself, the conduit to Te’o’s overall credibility is the guy who was granted an interview that Te’o didn’t have to give at all.  That fact naturally will make the interviewer — whoever it is — more inclined to paint the subject of the interview in a positive light.

Indeed, a questioner less friendly to Te’o’s predicament could have led the report with this statement:  “Te’o admitted that he never met the fake dead girlfriend, and that he lied to his family about meeting her.”  Choosing to focus on that aspect of the interview at the outset of the report would have prompted many to instantly wonder whether, if he lied to his family about meeting her, he’s lying to the rest of us about his lack of involvement in the hoax.

“I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” Te’o told Schaap.  “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.”

In a court of law, having someone admit to a lie is powerful, because it gives the lawyer more than enough ammunition to argue that everything the person says shouldn’t be taken at face value, and possibly shouldn’t be believed at all.

And while Schaap claimed he detected no inconsistencies, Schaap’s explanation of Te’o’s ongoing references in the media to his dead girlfriend after learning that she wasn’t dead speaks to a stew of potential inconsistencies that, if fully and completely probed, could expose a flaw that would be fatal to Te’o’s entire story.

“[Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick] said that on December 6, Te’o got a phone call from a person who he believed to be Lennay Kekua, who he thought had died on September 12,” Schaap explained.  “Te’o says he did get that phone call on December 6, but that did not convince him that this had all been a hoax.  That took longer to get around to.  But between December 6 and December 26, when he went to Notre Dame to tell them about the problem, he continued to talk about Lennay Kekua, his girlfiend, in several interviews, including an interview with our Chris Fowler during the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8th.  And [Te’o] explained why that happened, because he said he wasn’t convinced that Lennay Kekua hadn’t died, that she was a hoax, now he was thinking maybe she was alive.  She had given him some story about drug dealers.”

So why did he keep referring to her as being dead?

There are more tidbits that appeared not in Schaap’s on-air report (or in the original ESPN.com story that contained only 32 words from Te’o regarding his denial of involvement) that make us wonder how Te’o could have been oblivious to the existence of a hoax, which based on his admission that he lied to his father would cause a reasonable person to wonder whether he’s lying to the rest of us now.

First, the latest ESPN.com article says that “T’eo tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a ‘black box’ and wasn’t seen.”  Second, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o “planned to meet Kekua in person several times, including in Los Angeles and Hawaii, but on each occasion she called off the meeting or sent others in her place.”  Third, the ESPN.com article explains that “Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money,” but that “Te’o did not provide his account number.”  Fourth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t go see her in the hospital when she was recovering from a car accident or battling leukemia because “it never crossed my mind” to do so.  Fifth, the ESPN.com article says that Te’o didn’t attend Kekua’s funeral because “her mom didn’t want me to come.”

Perhaps the strangest question arises from Te’o’s claim to Schaap that, as explained by Schaap on air, “[r]ight up until a few hours before the Deadspin story broke two days ago [Te’o] wasn’t quite sure what happened but at that time he got a phone call from Ronaiah Tuiasospo in which he admitted that he had perpetrated this hoax and in a series of communications also apologized for it.”  The notion that Te’o “wasn’t quite sure what happened” until “a few hours before” the story broke doesn’t mesh with the very clear picture painted Wednesday night by Swarbrick of extensive meetings and a private investigation with a comprehensive report, or with the reported plan by Te’o to go public with the hoax two days before the story broke.

The only conclusion that we draw from any of this is that it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.  Te’o’s uncle has raised a potential financial incentive via raising funds for leukemia victims hasn’t been explored and wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in the on-air or online ESPN reports.

If Tuiasosopo used the fake dead girlfriend as a way to raise money, with or without the knowledge or assistance of Te’o, the appropriate authorities should look into the situation.  Indeed, the request for checking account numbers could be enough to green light a criminal investigation.  A high-profile case like this one would, if any laws were broken, send a strong message of deterrence to anyone who is tempted to “catfish” not for sport, but for profit.

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Jon Kraft: “It’s not our intention” to fight to get draft picks back

Jonathan Kraft AP

Long before the Patriots got their quarterback back, they threw up their hands and accepted their own punishment for what happened in #DeflateGate.

But even though their quarterback scored a technical knockout in court today (though something far less than being found innocent), they’re not trying to reverse their own penalty.

According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said that fans “are not the only ones” who want their forfeited draft picks back, “but as we sit here today, it’s not our intention” to fight penalties.

The Patriots were fined a record $1 million, and the league took their first-round pick in 2016 and their fourth-rounder in 2017. Owner Robert Kraft said in May that he wouldn’t fight the team’s penalties for the good of the league.

But that doesn’t mean the Patriots are in full forgive-and-forget mode.

Jonathan Kraft said the league’s disciplinary process “probably needs to be re-thought, for the good of the game.”

It’s unlikely that the Patriots are going to get any satisfaction (beyond handing the league another loss in court and getting one of the best players in league history back on the field for the opener). But they are clearly willing to look for a way to change the league’s method of punishment, and can appear magnanimous in the process when the league decides to go after another team the way it did them and the Saints.

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T.J. Ward apologizes for suspension

T.J. Ward AP

Broncos safety T.J. Ward has been suspended for the regular-season opener following an off-field incident from more than a year ago. On Thursday night, Ward apologized for his actions — and tried to minimize the situation, just a bit.

“I take full responsibility for the incident that occurred in May 2014 and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by serving my one game suspension,” Ward said in a statement issued by the team.  “Although I was never arrested and all charges against me were ultimately dismissed, I have no one to blame but myself for being in the predicament that evening.”

It doesn’t matter that Ward wasn’t arrested or that the charges were dismissed. The NFL deemed him to be in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, resulting in the one-game suspension.

Besides, a warrant was issued for Ward’s arrest. While there may have been no perp walk, Ward appeared in court and posted a $1,900 bond. Eventually, the charges were dropped when Ward agreed to perform four hours of community service.

“To the Denver Broncos organization, the Bowlen family and to the Denver Bronco fans, I want to apologize for my conduct,” Ward said.  “I have learned from my mistakes and will continue to be a pillar in the community to make myself a stronger person and player for the Denver Broncos.”

No one ever declared Ward to be a pillar of the community, but if John Bowlen can call himself the “blood of the city,” it’s hard to quibble with Ward’s contention.

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Greg Hardy will have a hard time getting his suspension reduced

Dallas Cowboys training camp Getty Images

Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy reportedly is considering a legal challenge to his four-game suspension, which an arbitrator reduced from 10. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hardy is waiting for a final recommendation from the NFL Players Association.

If Hardy proceeds, he’ll have a tough time getting anything other than the money he would have made if he had been suspended only two games, the amount he believes he should have been suspended under the Personal Conduct Policy at the time he violated it.

With the regular season only 10 days away, Hardy is only 18 days away from what would be the conclusion of a two-game suspension. If Hardy were going to push for a court order allowing him to be available for Week Three and Week Four, Hardy should have filed a lawsuit weeks ago.

Hardy could still file something now, but he won’t get a final ruling before Monday, September 21. He possibly could get a temporary injunction allowing him to play pending the resolution of the case, but the judge may not be thrilled with Hardy and the NFL Players Association rushing into court with a sudden sense of urgency with respect to a decision that was issued on July 10.

The bigger problem for Hardy and the NFLPA comes from the potential P.R. reaction to an effort to reduce his suspension from four games to two, after it already had been reduced from 10 games to four — especially since Hardy’s suspension flows from an act of domestic violence.

Most fans and plenty of media members would contend that Hardy should simply be happy with the reduction by six games and not fight to have his suspension reduced even more. Which could be why Hardy hasn’t already filed suit. And which could be why he ultimately won’t.

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Rams remind fans that their signs may be removed

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As the Rams consider a move out of town, they’re making plans to prevent fans in St. Louis from expressing their displeasure.

A warning posted at the Edward Jones Dome, which longtime Rams beat writer Jim Thomas says he’s never seen before, tells fans that the team reserves the right to remove any signs for reasons including “message content.”

“Signs, banners or similar items must be football related and in good taste,” the warning continues.

In other words, if you’re planning to go to the Edward Jones Dome with a sign ripping Rams owner Stan Kroenke for trying to take the Rams to Los Angeles, you’d better be ready for stadium security to confiscate it. The Rams want the taxpayers to finance their stadium, but that doesn’t mean they want the taxpayers exercising freedom of speech inside their building.

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Tom Brady wasn’t “exonerated”

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Patriots fans have spent most of the day rejoicing Judge Berman’s decision in the Tom Brady case, and rightfully so. But to the extent that anyone believes Judge Berman “exonerated” Brady, the celebration is going a little farther than it should.

Judge Berman didn’t exonerate Brady. More specifically, Judge Berman didn’t find that Tom Brady had no awareness or involvement in an alleged (or actual) football deflation scheme. Judge Berman also didn’t find that Brady did not obstruct an NFL investigation.

Instead, Judge Berman found that, even if Brady is guilty as charged, he can’t be suspended. The NFL Players Association wisely refrained from putting it in those terms, since it would have caused some in the media to claim that the NFLPA is conceding that Brady is guilty. (When, for example, the NFL argued to Judge Berman that it doesn’t matter whether Ted Wells was truly “independent,” some thought the NFL was admitting that Wells wasn’t independent.)

The question for Judge Berman wasn’t whether Brady did or didn’t do it, even though some of his questions to the lawyers suggested that Judge Berman was curious about whether Brady did or didn’t do it. The question was whether the NFL had the power to suspend Brady. Judge Berman concluded that the NFL did not have that power.

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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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