Well, it took long enough. 35 days, to be exact, and all of that to arrive right back where we started — on Tuesday afternoon, the NFL announced that the league would be upholding New England quarterback Tom Brady's four game suspension for his role in the willful use of under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell heard Brady's appeal of the suspension on June 23, and since then rumors had been swirling of settlement negotiations, especially of late, However, this morning ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported that the league would likely be upholding the suspension in the next couple days and added a wrinkle that wound up being the "smoking gun" in the league's decision to keep the suspension at four games — Tom Brady apparently directed his assistant to destroy his cell phone on or shortly before March 6, the day that he was scheduled for his interview for the Wells Report, the league-subsidized document that outlined the case against Brady.
This particular cell phone had been in use since November of 2014, well before January's AFC Championship Game, and had over 10,000 text messages that Brady had exchanged with various parties. In a statement Tuesday, the league said Brady destroyed the phone with knowledge that the league wanted access to text messages and electronic information. Also, the destruction of the phone was not disclosed to the league until June 18, and not confirmed until the day of Brady's appeal.
Here's the richest part of Brady's continued upstream paddle to clear his name — Brady claims that he ALWAYS destroys his old cell phone and its SIM card when he buys a new phone, which means that he conveniently bought a phone right before his interview with investigators who wanted to see his old phone. (The vision of Brady walking into the Apple store on his way to meet with Ted Wells is kind of funny. The only funnier thing is the visual of Brady taking a ball peen hammer to his phone.)
Goodell said in the league's statement that Brady "went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the scheme." Perhaps that evidence would be text exchanges with low-level equipment folks John Jastremski and Jim McNally, hundreds of texts to guys that he'd never had any communication with prior to the AFC title game. Seems suspicious.
At one point during the post-appeal period, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, the league offered to cut Brady a deal:
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL was willing to drop the suspension by “at least 50 percent” if Brady: (1) admitted to having knowledge of whatever John Jastremski and Jim McNally were doing to the footballs; (2) admitted to failing to cooperate with the Ted Wells investigation; and (3) apologized.
It’s believed that Brady’s suspension would have been dropped at least to two games, with the possibility of dropping it to one if he were sufficiently persuasive and profuse in his acceptance of guilt.
The Patriots continue to stand by Brady, despite the revelation today that he murdered a poor cellular device. Here is what they had to say in a statement:
"We are extremely disappointed in today's ruling by Commissioner Goodell. We cannot comprehend the league's position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
So now we likely go to federal court with Brady seeking an immediate injunction to pause the suspension while the case works its way through the courts. Brady has reportedly authorized the NFL Players Association to act on his behalf. Brady, according to sources, will fight a suspension for as long as he can, and will demand that any punishment specify that it's for failing to cooperate with the NFL and not for breaking rules with footballs.
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SHOW ME HOW
I'm not sure how the courts would look at a suspect who is destroying his cell phone, even if he allegedly does so as a part of some customary portion of the phone-buying process. Honestly, I'm not sure how this thing has gotten this big and gone this far. The league turned a small molehill into a mountain by even pursuing a suspension for a ridiculously insignificant transgression, and Brady's subsequent mishandling of the situation has made it an entire mountain range.
So now we wait for the next step in the "scandal" that will never end. Second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo waits to see if he finally gets to showcase his skills. The Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys wait to see if they get Brady or Garoppolo. One thing we do know — the Colts will get Brady in the Patriots' fifth game of the season. It was their reporting of deflated footballs to the officials that began this cycle of football bloodshed.
I think I'll take the over in that Patriots-Colts game.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.