Deflategate needs a new name. Delaygate seems more appropriate.
Patriots fans, and those of us getting a little tired of the whole ordeal, are getting increasingly frustrated with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is taking his sweet time announcing the league’s decision on Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension.
Goodell needed only five days to announce Brady’s suspension following the release of Ted Wells’s report in May, but Thursday marked Day 30 since Brady’s appeal was heard at the league offices, and Goodell still hasn’t announced his verdict.
Not only that, but barely a peep has emerged about the actual content of the appeal. Did Brady fully cooperate this time? What exactly went on in the room for those 10-plus hours? I asked one of the NFL’s lawyers the day after the appeal if he could say anything, and he directed me to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
“But you should not expect to hear much, if anything, from him,” the attorney said. And we haven’t.
But it’s not just Patriots fans and reporters growing weary of the NFL’s silence. The NFL Players Association would like to know what’s going on at 345 Park Avenue, too.
Pro Football Talk reported late Wednesday night that neither side has made much progress on a settlement that would end this thing once and for all. ESPN reported that the NFLPA made an offer to the NFL last week and has been met by crickets.
Another union source told the Globe on Thursday, “We are still waiting for a decision and we have no information about a timeline. We wish we would hear something soon, for sure.”
For the Patriots fans flipping out about how a potential settlement will make Brady look guilty in the public eye, stop wasting your energy. Brady’s appeal always was and always will be about a negotiation between the NFL and the union.
That’s how the NFL’s disciplinary process works. It’s a negotiation, not a court of law. The league and the union have the same group of lawyers working on most cases — Jeffrey Pash and Gregg Levy for the NFL, Jeffrey Kessler and Heather McPhee for the union. Brady’s appeal is now in the lawyers’ hands, not Goodell’s.
“They battle all the time, and there’s a lot of backdoor dealing,” one longtime agent said. “It’s no different than a district attorney who knows the criminal defense lawyers.”
But the union can’t seem to get the NFL’s attorneys on the phone these days. For the NFL, it’s all about using its leverage — the longer it waits in handing down a decision, the harder it will make it for Brady to take this case to federal court and see it all the way through. Brady hates distractions during the season, and the NFL knows it. So the league is keeping quiet and keeping everyone guessing.
Brady’s threat of a lawsuit also factors into the delay. The NFL’s lawyers have to triple-check every word in their document, knowing there’s a good chance it will be picked apart in court.
So union leadership can’t do much else right now but negotiate through the media. Last week, we heard that Brady is going to federal court unless the suspension is completely wiped out. Then we saw details of Brady’s proposed lawsuit, which would attack the suspension based on the precedent of other similar penalties (Brett Favre’s $50,000 fine for not cooperating, for example).
And on Thursday, we heard another negotiating point from the union: According to ESPN, Brady is willing to pay a large fine as long as the penalty “creates the impression of vindication for Tom Brady.” Brady’s OK with being fined for not cooperating with Wells’s investigation, but not for being “generally aware” of any ball deflating.
I can see Goodell and the NFL’s attorneys rolling their eyes at that one, all the way from Boston.
If Goodell does show any interest in speaking with the union lawyers, he’ll gently remind them that the NFL already found Brady guilty. The time for vindication has come and gone.
But the union is talking tough for now because these are the opening offers. “We’re definitely going to court” has apparently morphed into, “We’d be OK with a fine.” Don’t be surprised if it ultimately lands on, “We’ll take a one- or two-game suspension, as long as you clear Brady of having any knowledge of the ball deflating.” But it will take awhile to get there.
The union isn’t the only one sending subliminal messages through the media, however. The PFT report stated that Goodell “is being pushed by a small handful of influential owners to hold firm on the four-game suspension.” Now Goodell has made his point: “There’s no way I can wipe out the suspension completely. There’s too much pressure on me from some of my bosses to keep it at four games, let alone reduce it.”
But the NFL has to know it will get crushed in the court of public opinion if it keeps Brady’s suspension at four games while also suspending Greg Hardy four games for domestic violence. That’s a PR headache the NFL simply doesn’t need to bring on itself.
So the whole “my bosses want me to keep it at four games” thing is just the NFL’s opening offer. Eventually, the league most likely will have to come down to one or two games, as has been predicted all along.
Then the ball is truly in Brady’s court. Does he really want to go all the way with a lawsuit, or will he eventually be willing to sit out a couple games?
See you at the bargaining table.