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    ben volin | on football

    Compelling case can be made for Tom Brady’s defense

    Let’s start off by saying I accept the premise of the Wells Report, that Tom Brady at the very least was “generally aware of the inappropriate activities” of assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and part-time locker room attendant Jim McNally in regards to deflating the Patriots’ footballs before the AFC Championship game.

    Brady’s defiance during the investigation, and his sudden amnesia about league rules and his friendship with McNally, don’t help his cause. But the fact that many former NFL quarterbacks don’t buy Brady’s explanation is the most significant to me.

    “I can’t imagine, for the life of me, that anyone in that organization that wanted to keep their job would tinker with the football without Tom Brady knowing about it,” former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon said in a conversation with me Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL. “That’s like me going into Rory McIlroy’s bag and adjusting his driver from a 9.5 degree loft to a 9 without him knowing. That’s insane.”

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    However, a fairly compelling case can be made in Brady’s defense that he really didn’t have anything to do with deflating the footballs. A lot of the evidence pointing toward Brady’s knowledge can be explained away rather rationally.

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    “The investigators’ assumptions and inferences are easily debunked or subject to multiple interpretations,” Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said in a statement Thursday. “Much of the report’s vulnerabilities are buried in the footnotes, which is a common legal writing tactic. It is a sad day for the league as it has abdicated the resolution of football-specific issues to people who don’t understand the context or culture of the sport.”

    It would take a leap of faith to believe all of the coincidences in sum, but perhaps Brady is simply a victim of circumstance, or McNally was a rogue employee who took things too far.

    For instance . . .

     Brady never explicitly said anything about deflating the footballs under 12.5 PSI.

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    The report notes that McNally was very specific with referee Walt Anderson before the AFC Championship game that Brady prefers his footballs at 12.5 PSI, the lowest allowable amount.

    And Brady has been very, very particular about the way he likes his footballs throughout his career.

    In 2006, he and Peyton Manning were the catalysts for a rule change that allowed NFL teams to provide their own footballs for games. And Brady apparently was livid about the condition of the footballs in the Patriots’ win over the Jets last October, complaining that they felt like “bricks,” according to the report. Jastremski said he tested some of the footballs the next day, and some of them supposedly measured close to 16 PSI (although it is a bit hard to believe that the balls registered that high nearly 12 hours after the game).

    But there’s not one iota of evidence in the report supporting the notion that Brady wanted his footballs below the legal limit. It’s certainly possible that McNally knew Brady’s preference for a softer football and simply let his imagination run wild, taking it upon himself to take air out of the football and curry favor from his quarterback.

    Did Brady order the Code Red? Wells certainly didn’t find that out.

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     Brady giving McNally gifts doesn’t really prove much.

    Wells noted that McNally received two autographed footballs and an autograph on his game-worn jersey in the week leading up to the AFC Championship game, and that McNally and Jastremski texted frequently about obtaining shoes, money, and autographs from Brady.

    This could be viewed as payment for doing the dirty work of deflating footballs. Or, it could just be Brady being generous to a low-paid worker.

    It is common in all professional sports for the athletes to pay clubhouse attendants, ball boys, equipment managers, and other low-wage earners with cash, gifts, autographs, and favors.

    Brady’s generosity is well known. At least once a year, Patriots players find a new pair of Uggs boots or slippers at their lockers, courtesy of Brady. Brady also happily handed over his Super Bowl MVP truck to Malcolm Butler, who made league minimum last year.

    And that’s just with the players. Brady has probably given out thousands of autographs, jerseys, footballs, and the like over his 15-year career.

     The high frequency of texts to Jastremski don’t prove much, either.

    Brady hadn’t called or texted Jastremski much over the previous six months, but then communicated with him multiple times a day in the three days following the Colts game. Wells took the texts to mean that Brady was conspiring with Jastremski to get their stories straight and ease Jastremski’s concerns about the investigation.

    But it could have just as easily been a case of Brady looking out for his friend. Why didn’t Brady text or call Jastremski for six months? Well, he did see him in the locker room every day. The two are friends, but most likely in a business-only sense.

    When Brady texted “You good Jonny boy?” maybe he was just being nice.

     You can’t necessarily blame Brady for not handing over electronic communications.

    Wells wanted to check out Brady’s texts and e-mails, as he did with Jastremski and McNally. It’s important to note that Wells didn’t explicitly asked Brady to hand over his cell phone and laptop.

    “We offered to allow Brady’s counsel to screen and control the production so that it would be limited strictly to responsive materials and would not involve our taking possession of Brady’s telephone or other electronic devices,” he wrote.

    That said, Brady is no ordinary human. He’s a mega superstar worth hundreds of millions, married to a mega supermodel worth hundreds millions more. He might not have wanted his cell phone number leaking out. He might have sensitive pictures of Gisele Bundchen he didn’t want leaking out. He might have photographs and cell phone numbers of famous celebrities he didn’t want leaking out.

    Brady’s phone is no ordinary phone. I don’t necessarily blame him for not trusting Wells and his investigators, even if they said that they wouldn’t actually take possession of his phone.

    Wells wrote that “there is less direct evidence linking Brady to tampering activities than either McNally or Jastremski.”

    No kidding. If the NFL is going to punish Brady, it better make sure it believes all of Wells’s assumptions with 100 percent certainty.

    Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.