Apparently the Wells Report was worth every dollar to the NFL.
The league decided Ted Wells’ “more probable than not” conclusion in his investigation into a rule once deemed worthy of “including but not limited to a fine of $25,000” warranted one of the biggest punishments in NFL history.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games without pay, and the team lost a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and a fourth-rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft and was fined $1 million. Brady can appeal his suspension, but the Patriots are out the picks and the bucks.
The league really messed up by waiting to dole out its punishment. When the report was released last week, no one had the time to poke holes in the ludicrous findings. Not needle-sized holes but big, over-inflated holes. Many assumed, based on the report’s introduction and conclusion, the Patriots were guilty and there was plenty of evidence to back that up.
Now that the 243-page report has been digested by folks with half a brain, it becomes obvious this punishment does not befit the crime or the evidence. This is like being sentenced to four weeks in prison for jaywalking. This is like a pitcher being suspended 40 games for scuffing a baseball.
The data didn’t even fully support the report’s conclusion. The strongest evidence was in the form of low-level Patriots employees’ juvenile text messages that never directly referenced Brady with any nefarious plans to stick needles in footballs. Brady and the Patriots were deemed guilty before the report was even written up, and Wells assembled some shaky evidence to back that foregone conclusion.
The NFL never took ball deflation or inflation serious in the first place, which likely angers the Patriots even more and became obvious after reading the Wells Report. The NFL told referee Walt Anderson to look out for deflated footballs, and he still didn’t record pregame readings — and he lost the footballs before the game.
Why the Patriots were hit so hard was detailed in NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent’s letter to the team: They’re still being disciplined for Spygate. Vincent admitted the 2007 incident was considered while determining the discipline for DeflateGate. That seems somewhat fair for the Patriots but not to Brady.
The NFL also docked the Patriots for a lack of cooperation. They prevented staffer Jim McNally from speaking to Wells for a fifth time, and Brady refused to hand over his private cell phone so investigators could sift through his texts and emails.
The next step for Brady is his appeal. It’s likely, when taken to a third party, that his suspension will be reduced. That’s probably why the NFL made his punishment so steep, so when it’s knocked down, it’s still harsh.
It’s at least worth mentioning that former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended two games last season when video — which the NFL might or might not have covered up — existed of him assaulting his wife. Only in the NFL is a crime comparable to jaywalking worth discipline more severe than domestic violence.
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