NEW YORK — Tom Brady appeared to cooperate fully in Tuesday’s appeal of his four-game Deflategate suspension, offering explanations to all of the questions Ted Wells had for him in his initial investigation, according to ESPN.
Now it’s up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to put it all into context and figure out the appropriate punishment for Brady — if he even deserves one at all.
Tuesday’s marathon appeal lasted 11 hours — approximately three hours longer than the loose 5:30 p.m. deadline spelled out by the NFL in a memo last week. The appeal was a closed-door affair, with reporters barred from entering the building, and it is unclear how much Brady spoke in front of Goodell, and how many witnesses were called.
While the appeal took only one day — the parties stayed late to finish Tuesday instead of spilling over into Thursday — Goodell will now likely take several weeks to decide whether he should reduce or completely remove Brady’s suspension. The league’s collective bargaining agreement states that Goodell must make a decision “as soon as practicable,” but with no defined timetable. Based on precedent, Goodell could take three to five weeks to make his decision.
“I don’t know what the timetable is, but we feel like we made a very compelling case in there,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the NFL Players Association’s outside counsel who led Brady’s defense team.
Deflategate began during the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 18, when underinflated footballs were discovered in use. The NFL slapped Brady with a harsh four-game punishment largely because of Brady’s supposed lack of cooperation during Wells’s four-month investigation, which included Brady’s refusal to hand over certain electronic communications.
But Goodell said in May that “if there is new information or there’s information in helping us get this right, I want to hear directly from Tom on that,” and it appears that Brady satisfied that requirement on Tuesday at the league’s Park Avenue headquarters, with Goodell serving as the hearing officer.
Brady also needed to explain why he conversed with John Jastremski, one of the alleged ball deflators, so often in the days after the AFC Championship game. Brady spoke with Jastremski on the phone for 57 minutes despite having not talked on the phone with him in the previous six months, and he invited Jastremski to talk in the quarterbacks’ meeting room, which Brady had never done.
Brady is seeking complete exoneration, and the only way he is going to get it from Goodell will be if Brady offered plausible explanations for those conversations with Jastremski, and if he provided the league with the electronic communications he declined to give it three months ago.
Given the confidential nature of the appeal — a stenographer chronicled every word, but the transcript will only become public if Brady takes the NFL to court to remove his suspension — it is unclear who testified at the hearing and how many people were present in the room. While NFL appeal proceedings usually only have 10 or 12 people in the room, ESPN reported that close to 40 attorneys and witnesses were present for Brady’s appeal, forcing the sides to move to a larger conference room in the building’s basement.
A rumor surfaced that Brady left the proceedings several hours before completion, but Kessler said, “Tom was there until the bitter end.” Brady entered and exited the building without making a comment.
One person who definitely testified was Wells, who has taken a lot of heat from the Patriots and their fans for the holes that have been poked in his 243-page report, most notably relating to the science he used to show the Patriots’ guilt. A report from the American Enterprise Institute released more than a week ago stated that Wells’s scientists didn’t account for the Colts’ footballs having time to warm up in the locker room before they were tested by officials, and that they didn’t account for all of the gauge-switching scenarios presented in the Wells Report.
Wells confirmed late Tuesday night that he did testify in the appeal, but declined further comment. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, who recommended Brady’s four-game suspension as well as the Patriots’ team punishments, was also expected to be called by the NFLPA as a witness.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was not at the proceedings, as he was returning from a trip to Israel with a group of 19 Pro Football Hall of Famers. But Kraft submitted a letter on Brady’s behalf.
Kraft backed down in his fight against Goodell and the NFL, begrudgingly accepting the team punishments of a $1 million fine and loss of first- and fourth-round draft picks. Now Brady must decide how far he wants to take his fight.
While Goodell could potentially lessen Brady’s suspension, it is highly unlikely that he’ll wipe it out completely, given that he handed out the initial punishment, and the NFL paid Wells’s law firm $5 million for its investigation and report.
If Brady’s suspension isn’t reduced to zero, he has the option of filing an injunction in federal court to stay the suspension, and then a lawsuit against the NFL on the grounds of disparate treatment and that the NFL’s appeals process — with Goodell as the “judge and jury” — is inherently unfair.
Brady’s legal team argued that not only did Wells find no definitive proof of a ball-deflating scheme or of Brady having involvement, it also argued that Brady’s punishment was far too harsh based on precedent — the four-game suspension will cost Brady $1.88 million.
The NFLPA argued that in 2010, when Brett Favre didn’t cooperate with an investigation, the league fined him a mere $50,000. The NFLPA also argued that in a Carolina-Minnesota game in December, both teams were let off with a mere warning when they were caught illegally heating the footballs near an electric heater.
The NFL countered, however, that neither of those investigations affected the integrity of the game like the Patriots’ alleged ball-deflating scheme did.
If Brady does go to court, he could potentially be in the lineup when the Patriots host the Steelers in the NFL’s kickoff game on Sept. 10. It’s also possible that the court proceedings take so long that Brady could play the entire 2015 season.
But going to court carries risk, as well. If Brady loses in court, he could be forced to take his suspension in November or December instead of early in the season. He also would potentially open himself and the Patriots to embarrassment if his cellphone contents or other conversations are entered as evidence.
Brady appeared to do his job on Tuesday, offering as many explanations as he could. Now all he can do is wait for Goodell to make up his mind.