The American Enterprise Institute, a not-for-profit, conservative-leaning, Washington-based think tank, released a thorough rebuttal of the Ted Wells Report last week.
Headlined “Deflating Deflategate,” the report discredited the approach taken by Wells and the scientists at Exponent, finding that they used an “unorthodox statistical procedure” that doesn’t match the methodology described in the report, and didn’t investigate all relevant scenarios — namely, that Wells and Exponent didn’t account for the fact that the Colts’ footballs reinflated after being secured in a warm room for 10 to 12 minutes during halftime.
It was an impressive document from AEI, and it whipped Patriots fans in a frenzy over the shoddy science used by Wells and the NFL to justify the punishments handed out to Tom Brady and the team.
But it also left me with one question: Why?
Deflategate is so far outside the realm of what AEI normally does, as the most prominent think tank tied to the neoconservative movement. More than 20 of its scholars worked in the George W. Bush White House, and provided a framework for the US military’s surge in Iraq. It takes strong stances on topics such as agricultural subsidies, not deflated footballs. Recent articles by the authors of the report — Kevin Hassett, Stan Veuger, and Joseph Sullivan — focused on income inequality, Spain’s two-party political system, and Obamacare.
On top of it, AEI released its report last weekend, about 10 days prior to Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension. Why is AEI getting involved in this? Are we sure the AEI report was completely unbiased, as the authors stated? Did the Patriots call in a favor to AEI to help Brady’s case?
So I went straight to the sources, speaking with Veuger by telephone on Friday and Hassett via e-mail. Veuger, born in the Netherlands, has a 617 cellphone number and lived in the Boston area for 5½ years while studying at Harvard. Hassett grew up in Greenfield, about 90 miles west of Boston, and said he went to a few Patriots games in the Steve Grogan era. Both live in the D.C. area now.
But the two economists said they have zero ties to the Patriots, and performed their study on their own volition.
“Nobody called in a favor. We have not had any communication with the Pats ever in our lives, not just now,” Hassett said. “Nobody coordinated with us on timing or anything. We would not accept pay from either side going forward. We just want to help both sides figure out what the truth is.”
This was not the first time that Hassett and Veuger dipped their toes into the sports world. In 2012, they analyzed data to try to determine whether the Saints injured players at a higher rate than other teams with regard to the Bountygate incident. Hassett, who used to write about the economics of the NFL for Bloomberg, said they did the Saints project on a whim and didn’t get paid for it, and said they didn’t get paid for the Deflategate rebuttal, either.
Veuger is barely an NFL fan, watching one or two games per season.
“I think we decided to do this mostly because the Saints project was fun and stimulating,” Hassett said. “I have been kind of hoping that if we do enough of these projects, Stan would eventually understand that footballs aren’t round.”
Veuger said it only took about four weeks for the trio to produce their report, and it was only a part-time job, with five to eight hours per week of work. Yes, the report has produced some good press for AEI, but that wasn’t their motivation for producing it.
“We get free media, which is a plus, but this is more a hobby. We certainly didn’t set out to do this as a marketing effort,” said Veuger, 33. “The statistical analysis that the Wells Report does is not complicated in any real sense. The hardest part to do was to try to replicate what [Exponent] did. What they describe as the method they followed in the report isn’t what they executed. It’s hard to replicate all the mistakes, because you don’t know where it went wrong.”
Where it went wrong, they finally discovered, was that Wells and Exponent didn’t account for all gauge-switching scenarios, or for the fact that the Colts’ footballs had a chance to warm up before being measured, while the Patriots’ didn’t. They found that the Colts’ footballs were more out of whack for being too inflated than the Patriots’ footballs were for being underinflated.
The NFL didn’t respond to requests for comment about the AEI report. Dr. Daniel Marlow, the Princeton physics department chair who signed off on Exponent’s science, deferred all comments to the NFL office when reached by phone.
“I think he looked at the physics, but he certainly didn’t rerun their regression [model]. I think he did a superficial reading,” Veuger said of Marlow. “I think everything they write is true in a sense. I don’t think anything is made up. But things they should’ve questioned they didn’t question, and things they should’ve asked they didn’t ask.”
To be clear, AEI didn’t exactly prove that the Patriots are innocent. Veuger said his “best guess” is that the footballs weren’t tampered with. But AEI proved that the NFL didn’t prove the Patriots’ guilt.
And AEI didn’t get into some of the other evidence used against Brady and the Patriots — the text messages, the bathroom, and so on.
“We tried to limit ourselves to the statistical analysis part of it. I don’t think I have any skill in interpreting text messages or bathroom visits,” Veuger said.
While Veuger and Hassett testified in the Bountygate appeal in 2012, Veuger said they have not been contacted by the NFL or NFL Players Association this time. The two don’t know how much their report will be used in Brady’s appeal on Tuesday.
“As far as I can tell, [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] can hand out punishments for not cooperating, but I think the punishment that has been handed out is much harsher than you would typically do for those counts,” Veuger said. “If part of the report is discredited, you’d expect the punishment to go down proportionally.”
Rules may hinder development
Summer vacation is here for all 32 teams following the completion of the league’s nine-week offseason program last week, and it got us thinking about the relatively new rules that govern what can and cannot happen on the practice field.
The NFLPA fought hard in the 2011 labor negotiations to cut down on the wear and tear on the players, and under the new rules, the number of organized team activities was cut from 14 to 10, and all forms of physical contact were outlawed — pass rushing drills, bump-and-run drills, and so on.
“It’s not an evaluation of the physical part, but it’s an evaluation of the mental part and their ability to think quickly, process information, handle different situations, and communicate individually and as a group,” coach Bill Belichick said of what the Patriots accomplished this offseason.
There’s no question that the rules are good for the players’ physical well-being. But after speaking with a pro personnel director, an offensive coordinator, and a special teams coordinator in the last week, we wonder if maybe the younger players are suffering in their development because of the cutbacks on offseason practice.
Veteran players with at least three years of experience don’t need the offseason developmental program too much — at this point, either they can play or they can’t. But the rookies and young players are missing out on some crucial practice time.
“It’s definitely tougher to evaluate,” the special teams coach said. “Rookies can’t do anything physical until camp, obviously, and that’s the most frustrating thing. You kind of know what the vets can do already, but the rules make it very hard for improvement, especially at the physical positions.”
The offensive coordinator noted that many teams have adjusted to the rules by running two practices at once — starters working on one field and backups on another. But there’s only so much work an offensive or defensive lineman can do in shorts and a T-shirt, and it’s nearly impossible to teach proper tackling techniques to younger players.
Further complicating matters is a rule that prevents rookies from participating in offseason workouts until their college exam periods are complete, even if the rookie withdrew from school before his spring semester. Patriots second-round pick Jordan Richards, for example, missed seven of the nine weeks of the offseason while waiting for Stanford’s academic year to end.
The NFL and NFLPA should consider revising that rule to allow rookies to participate if they withdraw from school. The special teams coach also believes that the last two weeks of the offseason program should be full-contact.
“It would just allow you to evaluate rookies and work on things you couldn’t get done earlier in OTAs,” he said.
IN GOOD SHAPE
Patriots’ cap is fitting nicely
As we enter the summer and prepare for the 2015 season, the Patriots are exactly where they want to be from a salary cap standpoint (naturally).
After signing first-round pick Malcom Brown on Friday, the Patriots have a little less than $10 million in cap space, giving them enough padding to sign free agents, add a veteran in a trade, or extend the contracts of current players.
Brown’s contract, which was predetermined by a formula, is worth a little more than $7.6 million over four years, and comes with a signing bonus a little less than $3.8 million. His salary cap number in 2015 will be $1,384,224, the 24th-highest on the team. The highest cap number he will have will come in the final year of his deal in 2018, and will be $2,422,392.
In other recent cap news, third-string quarterback Matt Flynn has the 38th-highest cap number at just $665,000, and recently released linebacker Brandon Spikes will count just $25,000 against the salary cap this year. The Patriots are carrying $14,037,976 in dead cap money for players no longer with the team, with four players accounting for more than $13 million — Darrelle Revis, Logan Mankins, Kyle Arrington, and Vince Wilfork.
Church tragedy hits Chiefs hard
The tragic shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church that killed nine people last week reached the NFL. One of the deceased, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, is a relative of Chiefs safety Sanders Commings.
Commings, a third-year safety from Augusta, Ga., practiced on Thursday but did not address reporters.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sanders Commings and his family,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s doing OK, as expected. That’s a pretty big shock. That’s all I can probably say to you.”
They won’t be fooled again
The NFL has outlawed the eligible-ineligible formations the Patriots ran to success three times against the Ravens in January’s playoffs, but Baltimore coach John Harbaugh isn’t taking any chances.
“We are working on formations — legal formations, illegal formations, unexpected formations,” Harbaugh said Thursday via USA Today. “The first time we ran it, you heard [linebacker Terrell] Suggs out there saying, ‘That’s not legal, that’s not legal.’ We will not assume that the referees are going to understand or always get it right when a formation goes out on the field, so we’re working on everything.”
Setting aside some fun time
The Patriots were hardly the only team to cancel the final day of mandatory three-day minicamp last week, starting summer vacation a day early, as the Jaguars and Texans did the same.
The Buccaneers canceled practice to go bowling, the Packers went skeet shooting, and the Dolphins underwent a day of Navy SEAL training.
Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron tweeted after the experience.
Still have sand in my eyes..ears as well as other parts of my body that I won't mention. LITTLE glimpse of Navy Seal training. Respect.— Jordan Cameron (@jordancameron) June 18, 2015
The Rams gave a unique contract to rookie running back Todd Gurley, the 10th overall draft pick who is coming off a torn ACL. Top-10 picks usually get fully guaranteed four-year contracts, but Gurley only got the first two years of his contract fully guaranteed for his pre-existing knee injury (plus his signing bonus). But if the Rams cut him because of the knee injury, the final two years of his deal are not guaranteed. The scenario is unlikely, but shows how the Rams protected themselves. . . . Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel are the bigger names, but watch out for Tyrod Taylor in the Bills’ quarterback competition. Joe Flacco’s backup for the last four years, the Bills like Taylor’s athleticism and arm strength and gave him close to equal reps this spring with Cassel and Manuel . . . Interesting to see IMG, the sports business giant, send out a press release promoting Tom Brady’s Facebook page last week in which he dedicated his fourth Super Bowl ring to his family, team, friends, and Patriots fans, perhaps highlighting the PR campaign underway to smooth over Brady’s reputation following Deflategate. Also interesting to see Linda Holliday, Belichick’s significant other, change her Twitter avatar to Brady’s jersey, as thousands have fans have done in support of the quarterback . . . Great to hear Johnny Manziel retire the “Johnny Football” persona and the “money” sign as he acknowledged his immaturity last year during a disastrous rookie season. The harder part is actually following through and living by his words . . . Interesting to hear former 49ers executive Carmen Policy, now spearheading the Chargers’ and Raiders’ joint-stadium proposal in Carson, Calif., tell SiriusXM that the project would make land available to the NFL Network and for a Hall of Fame West in addition to the current one in Canton, Ohio. “It will be a sports Mecca,” Policy said.
Former New York Giants running back David Wilson was forced to retire before the 2014 season due to spinal stenosis. With his football career over, Wilson embarked on a career in track and field, finishing ninth in the triple jump (48-feet-1 1/4 inches) at the Adidas Grand Prix event in New York on June 13. The NFL has a long history of plucking players who excelled at track and field. Here’s a look at how some of them did in both sports: