In any case of player discipline, a negotiated compromise is possible at any time. So in what arguably is the highest-profile instance of player discipline in league history, could a deal be done?
To get there, both sides would have to find an acceptable middle ground. But with Commissioner Roger Goodell apparently intent on never again being accused of not going far enough when it comes to player discipline and with Brady apparently intent on fighting any suspension through every available legal channel, a middle ground may not exist.
Here’s perhaps the only thing that could work: The conversion of Brady’s four-game suspension to a four-game fine.
He’d be punished significantly, with a financial loss of $1.88 million. Which means the league could claim it didn’t go easy on Brady. And Brady would be able to play, so the player could claim that he took the deal not because he’s guilty, but because the NFL gave him the chance to play, even if it means playing 25 percent of the season for free.
That still may not be enough, for either side. The league necessarily would be casting doubt on the multi-million-dollar efforts of Ted Wells, and Brady necessarily would be giving tangible ammunition to those who believe that he’s guilty of cheating.
The bigger problem is the lingering impact of the Ray Rice debacle on Goodell. After nearly losing his job for going too light on Rice and hearing barely a peep of criticism when Goodell gets his knuckles rapped by someone truly independent who reduces or scuttles his suspensions, Goodell arguably has nothing to gain and everything to lose by voluntarily allowing Brady to play in every game of the 2015 season.