Tom Brady was named as one of the primary culprits in the Wells Report, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence there. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1) The report is exhaustive, and it’s clear that Ted Wells did his due diligence — 103 days worth, to be precise. But there’s very little conclusive language, and there doesn’t appear to be much of a smoking gun. The decisive comments that some New England critics were hoping for — a videotape or other definitive evidence — doesn’t seem to exist, and the report reflects as much. That’s why the phrase like “more probable than not” is used so liberally throughout what should be the most damning paragraph of the report:
“It is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules. In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
2) The report absolves the ownership and the coaching staff, and places the blame at the feet of three individuals: McNally, Jastremski and Brady. (Adam Schefter of ESPN indicated Wednesday afternoon that the league was “considering discipline” for the three of them.) For the record, it’s not clear whether or not the texts between McNally and Jastremski were supposed to be sarcastic, but if the communications can be taken at face value, Brady’s reps can make a real case that he may have been the victim of someone with a grudge against him.
But at the end of the day, it’s not a good for the quarterback, even if he did manage to get mixed up with a couple of guys he probably shouldn’t have ever come across. From the report:
“[Brady] claimed that prior to the events surrounding the AFC Championship Game, he did not know McNally’s name or anything about McNally’s game-day responsibilities, including whether McNally had any role relating to game balls or the game officials. We found these claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence. In fact, during his interview, Jastremski acknowledged that Brady knew McNally and McNally’s role as Officials Locker Room attendant. Similarly, McNally told NFL Security that he had been personally told by Brady of Brady’s inflation level preference.”
3) If the discipline stops with Brady, Jastremski and McNally, what sort of punishment are we talking about here? It’s likely that Brady could get a heavy fine, but the real question is whether or not he’d be suspended for the 2015 regular-season opener, a nationally televised game at home against the Steelers. Would the league have the stones to do something like that and remove one of its biggest stars from a night that’s supposed to celebrate the game on a national stage? An interesting question.
4) Those text messages are . . . well, I’m not sure how you want describe them. In the exchanges between McNally and Jastremski, the two come off like middle-aged goofballs who are looking to wring everything they can out of the quarterback, with McNally making jokes about being “the deflator.” McNally told Wells the texts were “jokes,” but the duo sounds bitter in the wake of an incident earlier in the season when, following New England’s 27-25 win over the Jets in Week 7, the report stated Brady “complained angrily” about the inflation levels of the footballs, which prompted an exchange between McNally and Jastremski where McNally wrote “F— Tom” in a series of texts to Jastremski. And before the 2014 Bears game, McNally texts Jastremski, complaining about Brady and saying, “[expletive] watermelons [are] coming,” presumably an inference to the size of the footballs. He adds of Brady “the only thing deflating [Sunday]…is his [passer] rating.” Last May, McNally wrote Jastremski that he’s “not going to espn……yet.” The two also discuss Celtics tickets and new pairs of UGGs as gifts from Brady.
And 11 days before the AFC title game against the Colts, a text from Jastremski to McNally promised a “big autograph day,” with the clear insinuation being McNally had deflated balls to Brady’s specification and that sneakers and jerseys were part of the payoff.
Wells’ previous work used text messages to try to gain some clarity in the Dolphins’ bullying scandal. The biggest takeaway here if you’re involved with the NFL and you think there’s a whiff of scandal going on? STOP TEXTING.
4) There does appear to be some odd stonewalling on the part of the Patriots, who have insisted all along that they wanted to be as transparent as possible throughout the process. Brady did answer questions in an interview, but did not make documents/texts/emails available to investigators. And then there are conflicting stories as to how many times McNally was interviewed. In Robert Kraft’s statement, he said McNally “had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive.” Wells wrote that the Patriots denied a follow-up interview of McNally after one meeting. Regardless of which story is the right one, it’s a bad look for a team to deny the league the opportunity for a round up follow-up questions.
5) The league deciding not to take any disciplinary action immediately following the release of the report is curious. Perhaps Roger Goodell and company are simply trying to gauge public reaction first. The NFL has made some calamitous missteps over the last year-plus when it comes to public perception in other disciplinary cases, and this might simply be a case of the league trying to figure out which way the wind blows before deciding to hand down a penalty.