Now is the time when we bring up the old quote, “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
The sentencing is in for Tom Brady and the Patriots, and it is as harsh as it gets: A four-game suspension for the quarterback, a league-record $1 million fine for the Patriots, the loss of a 2016 first-round pick, and the loss of a 2017 fourth-round pick.
Don’t point the finger at Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent for being too vindictive. Don’t point it at Colts general manager Ryan Grigson for being too petty.
The Patriots have no one to blame for this but themselves. They have been arrogant and defiant from the start — demanding apologies when none were deserved, ignoring Goodell’s orders of full cooperation and obstructing Ted Wells’s investigation.
It was the exact wrong tactic for a team that has been called to the principal’s office one too many times in recent years, and with a commissioner looking to reestablish his credibility with the public and the other 31 teams. Now, Goodell is making the Patriots pay.
Make no mistake, the punishment is vindictive and overly harsh for the crime in and of itself. Grigson was being petty by focusing on deflated footballs while his team was getting blown out in the AFC Championship game. Wells didn’t get the goods on Brady in his investigation. The report determined that the two underlings, John Jastremski and Jim McNally, did something to those footballs, but didn’t get much on Brady, other than he was “generally aware” of the goings-on.
But the reason the Patriots are $1 million poorer today, and Brady’s legacy now at least somewhat tainted, is the way the Patriots’ organization handled everything.
Why was Wells called in to investigate the matter over three months? Because the Patriots defiantly denied any wrongdoing.
Patriots fans point to other incidents involving equipment tampering — the Panthers and Vikings placing footballs under a heater late last season, and the Chargers using “sticky” towels in 2012 — to prove the absurdity of the Patriots’ punishment. The difference between those incidents and Deflategate? Those teams owned up to it. They pleaded guilty and took their medicine. The Patriots kicked and screamed the entire time, and mocked the process.
When the Wells Report was released, what was the Patriots’ response? Not one of contrition. It was, “Well, the Colts’ footballs were deflated, too!”
Why did Wells find it “more probable than not” that the Patriots tampered with the footballs? Forget the science, which has giant holes. It’s because the Patriots couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer Wells’s legitimate and unbiased questions.
Why did McNally slip out of the locker room with the bag of footballs without Walt Anderson or another official as his escort? Why did McNally go into that bathroom for one minute and 30 seconds? Why didn’t McNally tell NFL officials about his trip to the bathroom at first, eventually change his story, then say incorrectly that he used a urinal in a bathroom that doesn’t have a urinal? Why did McNally and Jastremski text each other about needles, and then lie about a reference to a “friend” that clearly was about Brady? Why did Brady say he didn’t know McNally when Jastremski said he definitely did?
Their sudden amnesia hurt them badly in the court of Goodell.
Finally, why were the punishments so harsh both for Brady and the organization? They didn’t fully cooperate, as Wells explained in frustration in his report.
The Patriots refused to make McNally available for a follow-up interview after the investigators discovered new information, ostensibly the “deflator” comments in McNally’s texts. Their rationale was that McNally already had been interviewed four times, and a fifth time would have been excessive, because he lives in New Hampshire and has a job. Sorry. You make him available on the weekend, or after work. If McNally could exonerate the Patriots, they should have made him available 27 times.
And Brady refused to hand over any electronic communications, “despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information,” Vincent wrote Monday.
The Patriots’ organization is livid today, of course, but the one person who should be especially upset is Brady. The quarterback certainly deserves a lot of the blame, but from the moment Bill Belichick told reporters on Jan. 22 that “Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide,” the bull’s-eye has been placed squarely on Brady.
The Patriots should be the one taking the brunt of this. They’re the ones employing two men running around the bowels of Gillette Stadium talking about needles and deflating footballs. They’re the ones with the bottomless pockets and less to lose in the public eye than Brady, the NFL’s golden boy.
Lose a first-round pick and get docked $1 million? Whatever. The Patriots can handle that.
Instead, Brady is the one taking the fall. It’s his Wikipedia page that now forever will have a mention of cheating and suspension. He’s the one who has been branded a cheater in the eyes of Patriots haters across the country, even if he didn’t have a direct hand in deflating the footballs.
This saga is hardly over, of course. There will be appeals, and lawyers. Many lawyers.
But most of these penalties probably could have been avoided had the Patriots shown a little humility and accepted fault at the beginning.
Instead, the Patriots taunted the NFL, and got smacked down by Goodell’s vengeful hand.