The popular theory regarding the somewhat surprising decision of the Patriots to not appeal the punishments imposed against the team by the NFL is that owner Robert Kraft and Commissioner Roger Goodell struck some sort of a behind-the-scenes deal, possibly one that entails reducing the four-game suspension imposed on quarterback Tom Brady. But there’s another theory that is simpler, both on the surface and beneath.
Maybe the Patriots just caved because they knew they couldn’t win and they didn’t want to do more damage to their relationship with their 31 business partners and the presiding body that binds them together.
Appearing recently on CSN New England’s Sports Tonight, Ron Borges of the Boston Herald offered up a tidbit that fits with the theory that the Patriots abandoned a fight they knew: (1) they wouldn’t win; and (2) would make things worse.
“[Coach Bill] Belichick never believed [Brady’s] story, from what I was told,” Borges said. “Because they all know. Why do you think all those retired quarterbacks, the Troy Aikmans of the world — Troy Aikman is about as nice a guy as I’ve ever met in football — nobody’s backed [Brady]. Nobody, not a single guy. Why do you think that is? Because they hate Brady? No. Because they’re not stupid. They know nothing’s done with those balls that the quarterback doesn’t want done.”
That’s pretty much what Brady said back in January, during that awkward are-you-a-cheater?-I-don’t-believe-so press conference that few found credible.
“When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me, they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that, I don’t want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in, taking any air out, to me those balls are perfect and that’s what I expect when I’m on the field,” Brady said.
So if he doesn’t want anyone to do anything to the footballs after that and if they do something to the footballs after that, they’re either making the footballs less perfect to Brady’s chagrin — or more perfect to Brady’s delight.
The Wells report has many flaws. The science is shoddy and suspect. And the team of high-priced sharks supposedly skilled and experienced in interrogating witnesses was unable to get a confession from a pair of maroons whose text messages made them seem guilty.
Even without a confession or a smoking gun from Messrs. Beavis and Butthead, the text messages made them seem guilty. Someone apparently was doing something to footballs that Brady had deemed to be perfect. Although the NFL historically failed to understand the dynamics of air pressure and historically failed to apply any sort of scientific principles to the pre-game inflation process and historically failed to properly supervise the footballs before kickoff and historically failed to ensure a clear chain of custody of the official game balls, the text messages point vaguely to misconduct. Although some league officials may have had an agenda against the Patriots during the AFC title game and after it (by leaking blatantly false PSI data to ESPN, which gave the situation a much more sinister feel), the text messages point vaguely to misconduct.
That’s perhaps why Belichick isolated Brady from the get go, telling reporters that the coach knew nothing about the preparation of the footballs, and that reporters would have to talk to Brady. Unless a deal was struck through the back channels to secure better treatment for Brady (if he accepts the obvious offer from Commissioner Roger Goodell to finally turn over that cell phone), the Patriots perhaps have decided that they should walk away from a fight they can’t win because they finally realize it’s also a fight they shouldn’t win.
Still, it’s also a fight the NFL has failed to convincingly win, thanks to a multi-million-dollar investigation that resulted in a puzzle pieces being jammed together to look like the lid of a different box. And that’s the biggest problem with this entire escapade. By failing to craft a report that withstood objective external scrutiny, Wells and company made it impossible for anyone to achieve a clear sense as to what did and didn’t happen. They were supposed to get to the truth. Instead, the developed a visceral sense of what the truth was, and they did an ineffective job of finding the truth and presenting it in a way that comes off as persuasive and accurate.
But if Belichick ultimately doesn’t believe Brady, there was no reason to keep fighting. And if Borges is right, the Patriots may have deeper issues to deal with regarding the relationship between franchise quarterback and coach and franchise quarterback and franchise.