With no first-round draft pick, a boring list of unrestricted free agents and few pressing needs for the team to address before the 2016 season, New England Patriots fans seemingly have been lulled to sleep this winter.
Wake up, Patriot Nation. The offseason perks up Thursday when the NFL’s appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman’s decision to vacate quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension is heard in New York.
The hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will fill headlines in New England, but don’t expect a satisfactory conclusion to Thursday’s events. Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann wrote Tuesday that Judges Robert Katzmann, Barrington Parker and Denny Chin likely won’t make a ruling until the summer or fall. So, not only will speculation extend throughout the winter, spring and summer, the NFL will receive the prolonged drama it so wants, with the ruling coming directly before or during the 2016 season.
You read that correctly. The judges might not reach a decision until the 2016 season already has begun. So, if the decision is delayed and if the judges side with the NFL and uphold Brady’s suspension, the punishment could begin midway through the season. That’s clearly not ideal for the Patriots.
More bad news for Patriots fans and those sick of the Deflategate drama: Once the three judges make their decision, this story probably still won’t go away. The losing side can appeal again.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, let’s examine what to expect from Thursday’s hearing.
The three judges won’t rule on PSI data, “deflator” texts or Brady’s stats before and after the NFL decided to care about football inflation. They only will judge Berman’s decision to vacate Brady’s suspension.
Lawyers from each side will have 15 minutes to state their case on whether or not Berman was right in vacating the suspension handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and during this time, the three judges can direct questions at counsel, McCann explained. The judges’ tone during this questioning can predict which side they’re favoring. The entire hearing might only last an hour, and Brady and Goodell are not expected to be in attendance.
There are positives for Patriots fans going into the hearing. Two of the three judges were appointed by democratic presidents and are more left-leaning in their decisions. That might be good for Brady’s side, since the judges could favor labor over management, McCann noted last week. Another positive: Just 8 percent of Berman’s decisions have been reversed or vacated by the Second Circuit, McCann wrote last week, based on available data.
Those hoping Thursday’s hearing would close the book on Deflategate will be sorely disappointed. It could be months or years before this case finally is settled.
Oh, and the kicker? Goodell wouldn’t even confirm before the Super Bowl that the NFL would reinstate Brady’s suspension if the NFL wins its appeal.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images