The NFL draft season is upon us.
The Combine. Pro Days. Scouting. Evaluations.
And, of course, the draft itself, which is April 28-30.
It’s also time for the continuation of the Deflategate saga, which resumes March 3 when the league’s appeal of Tom Brady’s overturned suspension is heard.
That has spurred plenty of discussion about whether commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL should restore the two draft picks the Patriots were docked – a first round selection and a fourth round pick.
A change.org petition has more than 5,000 signatures.
MMQB’s Peter King took a staunch position, insisting the lack of evidence should force Goodell’s hand.
“Based on the weight of the evidence from the past 13 months, and that weight being circumstantial and not convincing, there’s one conclusion I’ve reached entering the 2016 draft season: Roger Goodell needs to give back the picks,” King argued.
“I don’t expect Goodell to set the precedent of revisiting a sanction, especially at a time when the league will push hard to overturn Judge Richard Berman’s verdict setting aside Brady’s suspension when the case is heard in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit beginning next week. But just because the league won’t do it doesn’t mean we should forget it, or stop pointing out the errors that resulted in this discipline run amok, or point out that Goodell should do the right thing. The Patriots deserved to be slapped for Deflategate, not crushed. In fact, I’d propose giving back the draft picks but keeping in place the $1 million fine. These were reactionary, overblown sanctions. With time to reflect, they look even worse than when they were levied last May.”
King is certainly not alone in this camp, though he received criticism for backtracking to a conclusion that long ago seemed logical to some.
Cool that Peter King thinks the Patriots' draft picks should be reinstated. Sure took a long time to come to an obvious conclusion, though.— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) February 22, 2016
The Globe’s Christopher L. Gasper asserted that the NFL should release the PSI data collected this season — rather than burning the results and claiming “spot checks” were enough of a deterrent — and restore New England’s draft picks.
“A penny or $34.1 million for your thoughts, Roger,” Gasper wrote.
But it seems the question has splintered into two, and both are worthy of explanation. That’s how the Globe’s NFL writer, Ben Volin, tackled the question when I asked for his input.
“Should the NFL give the Patriots their draft picks back? Probably — or at least the first-rounder. The NFL’s evidence against the Patriots in the Wells Report was extremely shaky, and even though the team didn’t 100 percent cooperate with Ted Wells’s investigation, nothing about the ‘crime’ of deflating football necessitates the docking of a first-round pick.”
But, the question of what the league should do is not the only one at hand.
“Will the NFL give the Patriots their picks back? Heck no. Goodell and the other 31 owners have been hell-bent on punishing the Patriots since Day 1 of Deflategate, evidence or not,” Volin wrote. “This is as much about re-punishing the Pats for Spygate as it is for anything they may have done with the footballs this time. And Robert Kraft already stated that he would not fight the team penalties. He couched it as being in the best interest of the league, but realistically Kraft knew that he had zero support from his fellow owners, and appealing the penalty would be akin to ramming his head against a brick wall.”
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio argued that the Patriots missed their chance to fight the team punishment.
“[The league] won’t do it because there’s no mechanism that the Patriots can use to get the picks back. The Patriots chose last year not to fight the sanctions, closing the door on any opportunity to change the outcome,” Florio wrote. “So if the NFL would alter its course now, that would be a gratuity for one franchise, which would surely raise the ire of one or more of the 31 others.”
The punishment did not fit the crime from the jump, Fox Sports’s Chris Chase surmised, no matter if the team is responsible for its employees. That, he argued, should result in the Patriots’ first-round pick being restored. But only the first-round pick.
“But some clowns in the equipment room deflating balls hardly constitutes taking a first-round pick. I mean, the Saints lost two second-round picks for putting bounties on players! CTE vs. PSI and the latter is deemed worse?
“One of these things is not the same. So strip a third rounder because of The Deflator. Take away a fourth-rounder in 2016 and a fifth-rounder next year,” Chase wrote. “But a first-rounder? That’s a bit too steep.”
The ripple effect of restoring New England’s picks would basically cause too much damage for it to make sense, CSN’s Tom E. Curran wrote. And for the league to now admit it made a mistake and that it never had hard evidence against the Patriots would make life harder going forward.
“You think Denver or Carolina — both picking behind where the Patriots would be if the first-rounder was re-instituted — wouldn’t flip out on Goodell? Panthers owner Jerry Richardson would have Goodell’s testicles in a little satchel, especially after the way the NFL undercut Richardson’s efforts to make things right with the Los Angeles situation,” Curran wrote.
“The league is resolute that — even if the footballs from that night didn’t show it — the Patriots dickied with footballs after inspection over the years and are lying about it. It’s way too late for anybody on the Patriots side to change their story. It’s way too late for the NFL to admit it doesn’t have the goods.”
The argument is layered and there’s political red tape at every turn, acting as a tripwire that will leave the league boxed in right where it has been for the last 14 months — indignant and out for blood.
“Nothing the NFL has done in DeflateGate has been the ‘right’ or ‘just’ thing to do,” Volin wrote. “Why would the league start now?”
Your turn: Cast your vote
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.