The league did the right thing by exploring whether the Patriots video crew that filmed Cincinnati’s sideline last month had any connection whatsoever to the New England football operation. The next question is whether the NFL, in the absence of any link, will do the right thing when fashioning a punishment for the Patriots.
Mark Maske of the Washington Post, who reported on Wednesday that the league found no connection between the video crew and football operations, reiterated on his prior report that the discipline will be “consistent with” recent penalties for game-day infractions.
Incidents previously articulated by Maske include former Giants coach Ben McAdoo improperly using a walkie-talkie on the sideline ($150,000 fine, fourth-round pick reduced), former Browns G.M. Ray Farmer improperly texting the sideline during a game ($250,000 fine, four-game suspension for Farmer), the Falcons pumping in fake crowd noise ($350,000 fine, stripping of fifth-round pick), #DeflateGate ($1 million fine, first-round and fourth-round pick taken), and the Ravens having two defensive players on the field with coach-to-player communication devices in their helmets ($200,000). Each of those situations involved deliberate, intentional actions that both violated the rules and were aimed at generating some tangible benefit for the team. (That said, the league got it factually wrong with #DeflateGate; the evidence was inconclusive at best regarding tampering with football air pressure.) With no connection between the video crew and football operations, the Patriots may have violated the rules, but there was no mechanism for actually using it to the team’s advantage.
That’s why the penalty should be minimal. It’s a technicality, an inadvertent violation of the rules absent a way to convert that violation into a strategic benefit. And while that doesn’t excuse the behavior, it keeps it distinct from the examples identified by Maske, and it makes the prospect of taking away draft picks unwarranted.