The NFL story that just won't die is back in the news again.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in the "Deflategate" scandal was reinstated Monday by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
As a result, Brady will not face the Buffalo Bills in Week Four. He'll also miss games against Arizona, Miami and Houston, potentially tipping the balance of power in the AFC East.
In a 2-1 decision, the court concluded that Commissioner Roger Goodell "properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness. Accordingly, we reverse the judgement of the district court."
Goodell originally suspended Brady for his alleged involvement in the deflation of footballs before the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in January 2015, an investigation that became known as Deflategate.
That suspension was nullified by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in September, just a week before the regular season started.
Brady ended up playing in all 16 games in 2015, leading New England to a 12-4 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots' dominance of the AFC East with Brady has been remarkable. They've won 12 of the past 13 divisional titles, with the only year they failed to do so, 2008, coming when Brady missed nearly the entire season because of a knee injury.
The NFL appealed Berman's ruling, arguing that Goodell has the right to suspend Brady as part of the collective bargaining agreement with players.
"This is not an individual player issue. This is about the rights we negotiated in our collective bargaining agreement," the commissioner said at the Super Bowl. "We think they are very clear, we think they are important to the league going forward, and we disagree with the district judge's decision."
In writing the majority opinion Monday, Judge Barrington D. Parker concluded that the court's "role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all.
"Nor is it our role to second guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings. Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act."
Goodell, the appeals court found, "acted within the bounds of his bargained for authority."
In a statement Monday, the league said "we are pleased the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that the Commissioner properly exercised his authority under the collective bargaining agreement to act in cases involving the integrity of the game. That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years."
That authority, Parker noted, is "especially broad."
"In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline," he wrote. "Although this tripartite regime may appear somewhat unorthodox, it is the regime bargained for and agreed upon by the parties, which we can only presume they determined was mutually satisfactory."
As part of the league's findings, New England was fined $1 million and lost a first-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and fourth-round draft pick in the 2017 draft. New England owner Bob Kraft did not appeal those penalties, meaning there will be just 31 choices made in the first round Thursday.
The case might not be over just yet, though.
The NFL Players Association released a statement of its own, saying it "is disappointed in the decision by the Second Circuit. We fought Roger Goodell's suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players' rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement. Our Union will carefully review the decision, consider all of our options and continue to fight for players' rights and for the integrity of the game."
According to legal experts, Brady's next step would be to ask that the full, 22-judge Second Circuit hear an appeal, which is known as an "en banc" hearing. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, according to ESPN business expert Andrew Brandt.
So it's possible we haven't heard the last of Deflategate after all.