As noted here a few days ago, a suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seems to be inevitable. Gary Myers of the New York Daily News reported Friday evening that it’s not “if” but “when” — and ultimately “how many games.”
A Friday PFT poll question resulted in more than 27,000 responses, with more than 43 percent saying Brady should be banned for more than four games. If the decision to release the Wells report resulted not from a desire to be transparent but from a temptation to test the waters, that sentiment could be bad news for Brady.
Ultimately, the news will be bad; it’s not yet known how bad it will be. Although a league source insisted in the wake of Myers’ report that no decisions have been made regarding Brady (which actually feeds into the notion that the NFL is taking its time to gauge public opinion before pulling the trigger), how can Brady not be suspended?
Players are suspended for far less. Smoking marijuana results, eventually, in a four-game suspension. If a player continues to choose marijuana over football, he eventually is banished for at least a full year. For Browns receiver Josh Gordon, a few drinks on a flight to Las Vegas was the straw that broke the camel’s back on a one-year suspension that followed a 10-game suspension in 2014 for marijuana use.
When the Patriots host the Steelers to start the season, running back LeGarrettte Blount won’t play for New England because he had marijuana in his possession away from the workplace. How could the league justify suspending Blount for the game based on something completely unrelated to the game and not suspend Brady at least for the opener in the aftermath of an exhaustive 243-page report that concluded enough evidence exists to meet the NFL’s minimum standard for concluding that a violation of the playing rules occurred?
The personal-conduct policy, which is driven not by the integrity of the game of football but by P.R. considerations that have prompted the NFL to supplement the criminal justice system with tangible employment consequences, routinely results in suspensions of players who have never done anything that would amount to cheating. (Or, more accurately, they’ve never been caught doing anything that would amount to cheating.)
In the NFL, the most common punishment for cheating occurs when a player tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The first offense triggers a four-game suspension. That’s why Brady’s baseline punishment probably should be four games, for the violation itself.
Things get more interesting when considering the consequences for Brady’s refusal to fully cooperate with the investigation. He chose to not surrender his phone, which automatically (and separately) constitutes conduct detrimental to the league. Assuming that whoever made that decision has a basic degree of common sense, it’s fair to assume that the path of non-cooperation and conduct detrimental to the league was deemed to be better than the path of surrendering the phone and having evidence discovered that would make the underlying violation more clear.
Per a league source, phones routinely were surrendered by many league employees (including the highest of the high-level league employees) when former FBI director Robert Mueller investigated whether someone at 345 Park Avenue had seen the Ray Rice elevator video before TMZ released it in September. No one refused to surrender their phones.
In Brady’s case, the same protections would have been provided. A third-party performs the imaging and data collection based on narrowly-defined search terms and recipient information. With Brady, an offer was made to let Brady’s camp perform the search itself. He still declined.
At a minimum, that entitles the NFL to infer that the contents of the phone were not helpful to Brady. It also could allow the NFL to tell Brady that he won’t play until he complies with the request.
That would be an extremely aggressive position for the NFL to take, but it would be the best way to ensure that the precedent for all future investigations is as clear as it can be. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti admitted in the aftermath of the Rice debacle that the team or the league should have demanded that the video be surrendered, with the “or else” being that Rice won’t play until it is. The same position the Ravens or the NFL should have taken as to Rice could be taken as to Brady.
Does that equate domestic violence with taking some air out of a football? No. But domestic violence doesn’t amount to cheating at the game of football. If the NFL is willing to take such strong positions regarding issues that have no connection whatsoever to the integrity of the playing of the game of football, what should the NFL be willing to do when it comes to protecting the integrity of the game?
It’s too late to say “why is air pressure a big deal?” The NFL has made it a big deal, via the investigation, the lengthy report, and the likely seven-figure payment that Ted Wells and his firm will receive for their efforts. Organizations don’t go to such lengths to find wrongdoing only to do nothing when the wrongdoing has determined to happen. Otherwise, the organization looks foolish for wasting so much time and money to prove something that ultimately was of no consequence.
So regardless of whether the decision has been made, the only decision that makes sense would be a suspension of Tom Brady. Some would say that will be the first thing about any of this ordeal that actually makes much sense at all.