When I think of Deflategate, I’m reminded of an octopus, because of the many tentacles running from the biggest cheating scandal to hit the NFL since, well, the last one involving the New England Patriots.
Let’s start by looking at some of the legacies that will be impacted by the punishment.
Regardless of whether Tom Brady’s four-game suspension is reduced (unlikely) or even overturned (more unlikely) in the appeal heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, his reputation has been permanently scarred. No longer will one of those discussions about whether he should surpass Joe Montana as the best quarterback in league history finish without the phrase, “but he’s a cheater,” being uttered or thought.
It will come up several years from now when those of us casting our votes for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are staring at Brady’s name. By then, what other incriminating details will have surfaced about Brady’s role in the Patriots’ breaking of league rules by using underinflated footballs during their pummeling of Indianapolis in last January’s AFC Championship Game?
Could the bad look for the Brady brand that once was admired (mostly outside of Western New York, that is) by his incredible rise from sixth-round draft pick to legend, actually become worse if Brady and/or the Patriots end up taking this thing into a court of law?
The résumé packed with prolific passing numbers and clutch performances doesn’t just go away, of course. Nor do those four Super Bowl rings and Super Bowl and league MVP awards. But how much of an asterisk will they carry? How often will we wonder, if only for a moment, whether they were earned through skill or hijacked by dishonesty?
And while Brady might be the face of Deflategate, he is far from alone in having his legacy damaged by it.
Bill Belichick is right there with him. Although the Patriots’ coach was exonerated in the investigation by prominent criminal attorney Ted Wells, his fingerprints still found their way onto the results of its findings. The 2007 scandal bearing Belichick’s face, SpyGate, factored into the league’s Deflategate penalties, which included a $1 million fine for the Patriots and the loss of two draft picks, one a first-rounder.
Who, within the boundaries of sobriety, believes the runner of the tightest ship in the NFL would have no idea about or involvement in the handling of footballs his team would be using in a conference championship game? This guy knows the where, when, how and why of everything connected with his team for a voluntary offseason practice, let alone a game of that magnitude.
Like Brady, Belichick will have plenty of baggage with him when his career reaches the doors to Canton. For now, the summary line goes as follows: four Super Bowl victories, six appearances, with major scandals preceding two of them. Was all of Belichick’s brilliance behind all of that success confined to drawing up the right X’s and O’s and picking the right players, or was it also about scheming around the rules?
Then, there is Robert Kraft, the Patriots’ owner. He has long been recognized for putting together the NFL’s model organization because of its consistent success on and off the field. He has been one of the most influential franchise owners in all of professional sports.
Kraft also is the one who has been so vocal in proclaiming the Patriots’ innocence, the one who before last February’s Super Bowl win against Seattle was already demanding an apology from the NFL if the team was cleared of any wrongdoing. Except, for the second time in his command, it wasn’t.
Owners can be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too, as contributors to the game. After all of the other mountains he has scaled in football and business, Kraft is known to want that very badly. But two very large blemishes on his organization figure to hurt his chances, at least in the near future.
Here are some additional takeaways from the Deflategate punishment:
• If the NFL Players Association isn’t happy that Goodell is hearing the appeal it filed on Brady’s behalf, it only has itself to blame for agreeing to give the commissioner such power in its collective bargaining agreement with league owners. Goodell hardly qualifies as the independent arbitrator Brady and the union wanted to examine the evidence against the quarterback. Goodell was the one who commissioned Wells to prepare the 243-page document that concluded Brady was “generally aware” of the deflation of the footballs. Goodell was the one who put NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent in charge of determining the punishment against Brady and the Pats. Anything other than total validation of their findings and rulings would make Goodell look foolish. But if he does reduce or rescind Brady’s suspension, he risks being accused of, at the least, bungling yet another case of bad player behavior and, at the very most, showing favoritism for a star quarterback and Kraft, who has been one of the commissioner’s closest allies. Goodell’s image, still reeling from the embarrassment of the way he handled the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, doesn’t need another hit.
• Rex Ryan was doing the best he could to bite his tongue when discussing Brady’s suspension with reporters earlier in the week. The Buffalo Bills’ coach made a conscious effort not to make himself part of the story, and that’s never easy for someone who thrives on eschewing political correctness.
Ryan especially loves tweaking the collective nose of the big, bad bullies of the AFC East, such as when he pointed out that Brady one-hopped his ceremonial first pitch at the home opener for the Boston Red Sox while Ryan suffered no such humiliation with his first pitch at the Bisons’ home opener. Ryan said “the scoreboard” would indicate that beating the Patriots would be the same with or without Brady, but there was a distinct eye-roll and smile after the comment that made it clear he is not happy about the prospect of having “Patriots Lite” visit Orchard Park in September.
• If Brady doesn’t play in Week Two, the stakes for that game instantly get a whole lot higher for Ryan and a team that not only spent heavily to get the high-profile coach and his staff, but also address multiple key needs. You can’t do all of that and then lose to Jimmy Garoppolo or any other replacement for Brady. It would go a long way toward, yes, deflating the enormous balloon of optimism for the Bills that has been growing in these parts at a pace not seen since the early 1990s.
• Ryan danced around a question about whether he felt he was facing a team that promoted a culture of cheating when his New York Jets took on the Patriots during the last six seasons. What he did say was that, whenever his team played on the road, he would be conscious about not leaving any paperwork concerning the game plan in trash cans in the visitors’ dressing room. That applied to all opponents, not just the Patriots, but it did make a point about the larger issue of rampant mistrust throughout the NFL.
This is, after all, a league where coaches routinely cover their mouths when calling plays through their headsets because they know opponents have someone trying to read their lips just as they have someone trying to read the lips of opposing play-
• The gap between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East already figured to have closed after an offseason in which the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets seemingly got stronger while the Pats seemingly got weaker, especially through the free-agent departures of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. If Brady misses the first four games, it is not a stretch to say the Patriots could quickly find themselves in a 0-4 or 1-3 hole and the door would open wide for one or more of the other teams in the division to overtake them.
NFL scouts have voiced their share of complaints about the proliferation of spread offenses in college football making the job of evaluating talent more difficult than ever.
The reason is simple: most NFL teams prefer pro-style offenses over spread attacks that work from shotgun formation and don’t ask the quarterback to make reads or running backs or offensive linemen to function the way they will in more traditional schemes at the next level.
Tom Cable, offensive line coach for the Seahawks, says the college trend isn’t just a problem for scouts or coaches. He insists it hampers the professional transition of every collegiate offensive player, outside of wide receivers, because of the steep learning curve they face.
“I’m not wanting to offend anybody, but college football, offensively, has gotten to be really, really bad fundamentally,” Cable told 710 ESPN in Seattle. “Unfortunately, I think we’re doing a huge disservice to offensive football players, other than a receiver, that come out of these spread systems. The runners aren’t as good; they aren’t taught how to run. The blockers aren’t as good. The quarterbacks aren’t as good. They don’t know how to read coverage and throw progressions. They have no idea.”
Like it or not, we’re going to see a change in the way extra points are attempted in the coming season.
I, for one, don’t like it. I don’t see the need for it. I have never considered the nearly automatic kick for one point, snapped from the 2-yard line, or the option to run or throw for two points from the same distance a glaring flaw in the game’s fundamental structure.
But the marketing deep-thinkers at NFL headquarters in New York do. They’ve convinced Goodell that the kick, which is what teams try most of the time, is too boring and that fans need a compelling reason to watch every single play. Consequently, the commissioner charged the league’s competition committee to come up with a solution that owners would approve during their meeting next week in San Francisco.
So in addition to determining (thanks to Deflategate) new procedures for the handling of footballs before games, owners are expected to adopt one of two proposed changes to the way extra points are executed, according to the Associated Press. Each calls for the snap for a one-point kick to be from the 15-yard line, turning it into roughly a 33-yard attempt, but one has variations with the two-point conversation try.
Proposals from the competition committee and the Patriots want the two-point attempt to continue being snapped from the 2-yard line, but a proposal from the Philadelphia Eagles calls for the two-point conversion snap to move to the 1, while allowing the defense to score on a turnover. Not coincidentally, that’s also the college rule, which is consistent with Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s continued efforts to influence the pro game as much as possible with all that he did in his previous coaching stint at Oregon.
“I don’t think there have been enough experiments yet to make such a change to it,” said Mike Pereira, former NFL head of officiating and current analyst for Fox Sports. “There’s obviously a huge clamor coming from the league office, but I can’t say that I’m a fan of any of the options they’re talking about.”
Count on one of those proposals receiving at least 24 yes votes from the NFL’s 32 owners needed for approval because, like it or not, that’s what the league wants.