When the NFL imposed what appeared to be a pair of wrist slaps on the Browns and Falcons for violating the game-integrity rules regarding in-game texting and artificial crowd noise, respectively, it was confusing. Now, it may not be.
When the time comes for Commissioner Roger Goodell to discipline the Patriots, the most recent precedent comes from the fine plus no lost draft picks imposed on the Browns and the fine plus forfeited 2016 fifth-round pick imposed on the Falcons. The punishment of the Patriots should compare loosely to the punishment imposed on the Browns and Falcons — and what the Falcons did arguably is worse than what the Patriots did.
As noted at the time the Browns and Falcons punishments emerged, the fact that those teams admitted to their wrongdoing may have been a factor in the perceived lenience. But the finding in this case lacks the kind of smoking-gun clarity that the other cases exhibited. It could be that the Patriots won’t be hammered much worse than the Falcons.
Regardless, the decision to take a 2016 draft pick and not a 2015 draft pick from the Falcons now makes more sense. If the Falcons had been punished before the draft and the Patriots found responsible for a violation after the draft, the outcome would have seemed unfair. As it now stands, both teams will likely lose something in the 2016 draft — avoiding the potential incongruity of the Falcons but not the Patriots being punished via the 2015 draft for conduct occurring prior to it.