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NFL hammers Tom Brady, Patriots in handing down deflategate punishments

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) celebrates with owner Robert Kraft (right) after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) celebrates with owner Robert Kraft (right) after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL has sledge-hammered Tom Brady and the New England Patriots over deflategate.

In a late Monday afternoon announcement, commissioner Roger Goodell authorized the following punishments as imposed by executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent in the deflated-footballs scandal:

* Brady, the Patriots’ iconic quarterback, has been suspended without pay for the first four regular-season games of the coming season, “for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL.”

* The Patriots have been fined $1 million and will forfeit their first-round draft pick next year as well as the team’s fourth-round pick in 2017. Should the team acquire two picks in the same round of either forfeiture, the club surrenders the higher selection.

* The two team personnel most implicated in last week’s 243-page report from investigator Ted Wells -- Jim McNally (the officials’ locker-room attendant on home game days) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant) -- already have been indefinitely suspended without pay by the Patriots. The NFL has ruled that neither can be reinstated without league approval, and even if reinstated both would be “prohibited from having any role in the preparation, supervision or handling of footballs” to be used in NFL games this season.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft last week said the club would grudgingly accepted the league’s punishments. Late Monday night, he released a statement that seemed to indicate otherwise.

“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league,” Kraft said. “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.

“We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled ...

“Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered.”

Brady’s lawyer Don Yee, meantime, eviscerated the NFL in announcing that his client will appeal his suspension.

“The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis,” Yee said in a statement. “In my opinion, this outcome was pre-determined; there was no fairness in the Wells investigation whatsoever. There is no evidence that Tom directed footballs be set at pressures below the allowable limits.

“In fact, the evidence shows Tom clearly emphasized that footballs be set at pressures within the rules. Tom also cooperated with the investigation and answered every question presented to him.”

More from Yee in a moment.

Overall, the NFL’s punishments are far harsher than even vocal critics had been advocating for -- especially the team fine and draft-pick forfeitures -- although some did advocate for an even longer suspension of the 37-year-old Brady, one of the most accomplished passers in NFL history.

Why the sledgehammer, then?

Here’s what executive VP Vincent wrote in his letter to Brady:

“Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football. The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules.

“Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.”

Similarly, in his long letter to the Patriots, Vincent explained why the NFL imposed a record fine on the club and applied the steep draft-picks penalty:

“(There) are several factors that merit strong consideration in assessing discipline. The first is the club’s prior record. In 2007 the club and several individuals were sanctioned for videotaping signals of (New York Jets) defensive coaches in violation of (league rules). This prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case.

“Another important consideration ... is ‘the extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigation.’ The Wells report identifies two significant failures in this respect.”

First, the club’s refusal to make McNally “available for an additional interview.” Second, Brady’s refusal to turn over cellphone records and relevant text or email communications, “despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information.”

The first point galled Kraft last week:

“I was offended ... What the report fails to mention is that (McNally) had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive for a part-time game day employee, who has a full-time job with another employer.”

Goodell defended the league’s actions Monday with this statement:

“We reached these decisions after extensive discussion with Troy Vincent and many others. We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report.”

Goodell carefully avoided saying “the conclusiveness” of the Wells report -- whose bottom-line finding was that it “is more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware” Jastremski and McNally conspired to release air from the 11 footballs New England used on offence in the first half of a 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18.

After Colts representatives informed the NFL in the first half of that game they suspected the Patriots’ footballs were under-inflated, game officials at halftime -- under league direction -- added air to each ball to bring them within the proper range of 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch (PSI).

No one else connected to the Patriots, including Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, was implicated in Wells’ report. Neither Kraft nor Belichick was specifically punished Monday by the NFL.

Reports say Brady stands to lose $1.9 million in salary because of the suspension.

He is still permitted to “participate in all off-season, training camp and pre-season activities, including pre-season games.”

The four games Brady will miss: against Pittsburgh in the prime-time game to kick off the NFL regular season on Thursday, Sept. 10; at Buffalo on Sept. 20; against Jacksonville on Sept. 27; and, after an Oct. 4 bye, at Dallas on Oct. 11.

Brady would make his regular-season debut on Oct. 18, in a Sunday night game at Indianapolis, against the very team that blew the whistle on him at Gillette Stadium in January.

Here is the remainder of Yee’s blistering statement in defence of Brady:

“The Wells Report presents significant evidence ... that the NFL lacks standards or protocols with respect to its handling of footballs prior to games; this is not the fault of Tom or the Patriots. The report also presents significant evidence the NFL participated with the Colts in some type of pre-AFC championship game planning regarding the footballs. This fact may raise serious questions about the integrity of the games we view on Sundays.

“We will appeal, and if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic ...

“Sadly, today’s decision diminishes the NFL as it tells its fans, players and coaches that the games on the field don’t count as much as the games played on Park Avenue.”

Goodell hears appeals by players when disciplined by the league. Even when sledge-hammered.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/

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