scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Tom Brady paying for Bill Belichick’s mistakes

The sins of the coach have been visited upon the quarterback by commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL.

They wanted their pound of Patriots flesh from Spygate, the illicit signal-taping scandal, and eight years later, they took it right out of the franchise quarterback, slapping Brady with a four-game suspension for contributing to the deflation of footballs.

Just as Belichick and Brady are inextricably intertwined in the Patriots' tapestry of success, so are their scandals interwoven. Spygate is the shadow the Patriots can't outrun. It is the water that poisons the well. Brady is serving a suspension for two.

From the beginning, Deflategate was about more than playing with under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. It was about dredging up Spygate. It was about re-opening an old wound and settling an old score. It was about the belief by other teams that the Patriots were recidivist rule-breakers who skated because owner Robert Kraft was pulling the strings on Goodell. It was about Goodell, flexing the biceps he didn't have in 2007, when just 13 months into his tenure he had to rule on Spygate.

Add it all up, and you get an exorbitant punishment that doesn't fit such a picayune violation of the rules. This is a decision so ill-conceived, Goodell must have consulted with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.


Brady's agent, Don Yee, called the discipline "ridiculous" and said it had "no legitimate basis."

If the NFL determined Brady violated rules and failed to cooperate with the Wells report then punishment is warranted. But a suspension twice as long as the one Ray Rice was initially given for punching his now wife — a punishment Goodell vehemently defended — makes no sense.

Unless, it's not just for taking the air out of footballs. Unless, it's about rewriting history.


It was. It says it right there in the letter that NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, who played the role of Goodell's executioner, wrote to the Patriots.

"Here, there are several factors that merit strong consideration in assessing discipline. The first is the club's prior record," wrote Vincent. "In 2007 the club and several individuals were sanctioned for videotaping signals of opposing defensive coaches in violation of the Constitution and Bylaws. Under the Integrity of the Game Policy, this prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case."

The NFL can't retroactively punish Belichick for Spygate, but the punishment doled out sure seems like it's designed to hit him where it hurts him the most.

His cost-conscious owner is out $1 million (say, it "Austin Powers"-style) dollars.

Belichick could lose his quarterback for a quarter of the season, pending Brady's appeal.

The NFL docked the Patriots important draft capital, a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017, and unlike Spygate, stipulated that if they acquire a better pick in those rounds they have to surrender that instead.

The Patriots lost their own first-round pick in 2008 as punishment for Spygate. They got to keep the No. 7 pick (via San Francisco), which facilitated the drafting of Jerod Mayo. The Patriots carrying a top-10 pick that year infuriated other teams who already felt Goodell used a feather-duster on Fort Foxborough because he didn't suspend Belichick, who was fined $500,000. (The Patriots also were fined $250,000.)


There is irony in both the Wells report and Vincent's letter clearing Belichick of wrong-doing in what the NFL believes was a Nixonian conspiracy involving low-level Patriots staffers John Jastremski and Jim McNally to deflate footballs.

His Hoodiness walks away seemingly untarnished, while the NFL uses Deflategate as a cover to drop the hammer on the Patriots for his past misdeed.

Brady's suspension is the pox that Belichick brought on the Patriots' house.

It's not just the lingering mistrust fermented by the public and other clubs that never saw the Spygate evidence, which was destroyed by the NFL. It's not just Goodell telling Peter King in 2011 that he felt deceived by Belichick not verbally repenting for Spygate in the manner Goodell thought he had ordered.

No, it's the tangle of words and obtuse phrases in the league's Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of Competitive Rules that the NFL and Wells applied to create the standard of proof used to punish Brady.

Those words are in NFL ink explicitly because of Spygate.

It was after Spygate that Goodell proposed a number of changes to the league's enforcement of competitive integrity rules via a memo dated March 6, 2008. Among the suggestions in that memo was a lowering of the standard of proof in competitive integrity situations.

"Too often competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking," wrote Goodell. That gave birth to the now infamous "more probable than not" standard applied in Deflategate.


Under the previous standard, there is no way the NFL could have constructed such a disproportionate penalty on a plinth of incriminating circumstantial evidence, conflicting testimony, and noncooperation.

It should be no surprise that Brady's punishment is 180 degrees from the logic Goodell employed in Spygate. Most despots make it up as they go along.

Goodell wrote in 2007: "I specifically considered whether to impose a suspension on Coach Belichick. I have determined not to do so, largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension."

It looks like the Guardian of the Game changed his mind. We all would like a do-over on a few decisions in life.

Goodell used Deflategate to take one on Spygate. This was Roger's revanche.

He just punished the wrong Patriots legend.

Maybe, if there is a third time he'll get the discipline just right.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.