If it’s true that the NFL and the Patriots were engaged last night in “back-channel” negotiations and given that the Patriots declared that they’ll drop the matter two days before the period for appealing the penalties imposed against them expired, the next question becomes whether owner Robert Kraft opted to declare that he won’t appeal the punishment in exchange for a promise of some sort from the league.
Which means that, unless there’s some other type of consideration (such as the potential for hosting a Super Bowl), the carrot that persuaded the Patriots to accept the stick most likely relates to the four-game suspension imposed against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The arrangement would have to be subtle. Already, Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated has reported that a high-ranking league official has denied a link between the Patriots giving up on their discipline and the league eventually giving in on Brady. That’s not a surprise; the arrangement would have to be kept secret in order to prevent the NFL Players Association from developing yet another avenue for attacking the Commissioner’s judge-jury-executioner powers.
The challenge for pulling off the quid pro quo arises from finding a way to retreat on Brady’s punishment without raising too many eyebrows. The answer to that approach possibly resides within the cell phone of Tom Brady.
Commissioner Roger Goodell could give Brady a final chance to comply with the offer that investigator/prosecutor Ted Wells previously extended to Brady, allowing Brady’s agent/lawyer Don Yee to gather the texts and/or emails from Brady’s phone and to submit them to Goodell directly. Goodell could then conclude that the investigation finally has ended and that Brady has fully cooperated with it, which would qualify him for a reduced suspension — or possibly no suspension at all.
It still wouldn’t be easy for Goodell and the league office to sell this reversal, and Brady would have to be on board with the approach. But Brady’s phone gives Goodell a potential pathway out of the maze, allowing him to explain to league employees, the other 31 teams, the media, and the fans the reason for reeling in or completely eliminating the suspension of Tom Brady.