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Tom Brady poised to sue NFL if ban isn’t erased

Players union eager to limit league’s power

Tom Brady’s appeal of a four-game suspension was heard at NFL headquarters in New York on June 23.REUTERS

Tom Brady intends to challenge his four-game suspension in federal court if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t completely wipe out the punishment, according to an ABC News report and several other people familiar with the case who spoke with the Globe.

It has been 23 days since Goodell heard Brady’s appeal June 23 in New York, a hearing that lasted 11 hours and involved nearly 40 lawyers and witnesses. Goodell is expected to announce the outcome of the appeal before the Patriots begin training camp for the 2015 season July 30, although exactly when remains murky. In other recent appeals, Goodell has taken approximately five or six weeks to issue a ruling.


Brady is only the sixth quarterback in the NFL’s 50-year Super Bowl era to be suspended for reasons other than performance-enhancing drugs.

He was suspended for four games by the NFL on May 11 for being “generally aware” that the Patriots “more likely than not” intentionally deflated their footballs before the AFC Championship Game Jan. 18, according to Ted Wells, the attorney hired by Goodell to investigate the accusations.

Brady’s limited cooperation during Wells’s investigation — he declined to hand over electronic communications from his cellphone — also factored significantly into his punishment.

The popular sentiment around the NFL is that Goodell will most likely reduce Brady’s suspension from four to two games, especially since the league recently reduced the suspension of Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy for domestic violence from 10 to four games. It is also possible Goodell reduces Brady’s punishment to a combination of a suspension and the loss of game checks.

But according to ABC, Brady will go to court and seek full exoneration even if the suspension is reduced to one game.

It is unclear what Brady plans to do if Goodell reduces the penalty to a four-game fine but no suspension, an unlikely but plausible scenario.


Brady is set to make $8 million in 2015, or $470,588 per week. His current four-game suspension will cost him more than $1.88 million.

The NFL Players Association is eager to take the NFL to court over the Brady punishment as a chance to severely weaken Goodell’s disciplinary powers.

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2011 and effective through the spring of 2021, gives Goodell the right to serve as the hearing officer for disciplinary appeals. The NFL commissioner has held that power since the first CBA was signed in 1968.

Brady likely would have to prove that the NFL’s disciplinary system is inherently unfair and violates the “law of shop.” Among other points, Brady’s attorneys will argue that the $1.88 million fine is far too significant when compared with the $50,000 fine Brett Favre paid in 2010 for not cooperating with an NFL investigation.

Although judges are generally hesitant to overturn the decisions of collectively-bargained arbitrators, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won his lawsuit against the NFL in February.

Peterson’s suspension was vacated by US District Court Judge David Doty in Minnesota, who has typically sided with the NFLPA in its disputes with the NFL over the last two decades.

The NFL Network reported Tuesday that if Brady files a lawsuit, it would likely be in Minnesota (a labor-friendly court) or Massachusetts.

And in 2012, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s suspension for his role in the Bountygate scandal was overturned by a federal judge, allowing him to play in a total of 11 games during the season. Vilma later sued the NFL for defamation, but the lawsuit was thrown out of court.


Goodell typically allows other NFL executives to handle appeals, but he opted to personally handle the Brady appeal given the quarterback’s important stature in the league.

The other quarterbacks that have been suspended by the NFL in the Super Bowl era are: Art Schlichter (entire 1983 season for gambling), Jeff George (suspended for the 1996 season by the Falcons for fighting with his coach), Michael Vick (suspended for the 2007 and 2008 seasons for his role in a dog fighting ring), Ben Roethlisberger (four games in 2010 for violating the personal conduct policy), and Terrelle Pryor (five games in 2011 for violating eligibility rules while in college).

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