Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for Deflategate was reinstated. (Andy Marlin/USA Today Sports)
1. This was a win for Roger Goodell on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that it reaffirms his spot as judge and jury under the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. According to the court, the decision was not about whether Brady’s was “generally aware” of what happened, only to determine whether or not the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum six legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act. “We must simply ensure that the arbitrator was ‘even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority’ and did not ‘ignore the plain language of the contract.”
The decision continued: “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. 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.”
The 33-page ruling wraps up with this conclusion: “The parties contracted in the CBA to specifically allow the Commissioner to sit as the arbitrator in all disputes brought pursuant to Article 46, Section 1(a). They did so knowing full well that the Commissioner had the sole power of determining what constitutes ‘conduct detrimental,’ and thus knowing that the Commissioner would have a stake both in the underlying discipline and in every arbitration brought pursuant to Section 1(a). Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.”
Not sure I’ve ever seen a more plainly-worded defense of the most recent CBA as it relates to player discipline. While most CBA arguments over the years have centered around how to divide up the billion of dollars between the players and owners, you can be sure that the next time the CBA is up, player discipline and Goodell’s place as a disciplinarian will also be a major sticking point.
2. One thing that stands out here is the fact that it was a three-judge panel, and two of the judges — Barrington D. Parker and Denny Chin — ruled one way. Meanwhile Judge Robert Katzmann (the chief judge, as listed on the decision) ruled in favor of Brady and the league. While it can be seen as a victory for Goodell and the current CBA, the result was less than resounding.
Regardless, it appears that the court did not look kindly on the destruction of Brady’s cell phone, writing in part that “any reasonable litigant would understand that the destruction of evidence, revealed just days before the start of arbitration proceedings, would be an important issue. It is well established that the law permits a trier of fact to infer that a party who deliberately destroys relevant evidence the party had an obligation to produce did so in order to conceal damaging information from the adjudicator.”
3. The next step? Although it seems wildly unlikely, the possibility exists that Goodell could still reduce the four-game ban, or even rescind the punishment altogether and issue a fine instead. (Asked at the Super Bowl, Goodell wouldn’t confirm he would reinstate Brady’s suspension if NFL won appeal.) Given the history between the two sides, that seems like a long shot. There’s also the potential for Brady and the NFLPA to seek an injuction in the matter and request a rehearing before the full Second Circuit court. And as ridiculous as it sounds, the quarterback could continue this battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
4. One note as it relates to Brady’s per game salary. Per Spotrac, prior to signing his new deal in March, Tom Brady stood to forfeit $2,117,647 in salary for a 4 game suspension. He now loses just $235,294. It’s small consolation for the quarterback, but it’s still worth passing along.
5. At this point, from a practical personnel standpoint, everything basically reverts back to this time last year, where Brady’s fate for the first four games of the regular season was cast into limbo. That means the same questions remain — if Brady is unable to go for the first four games of the season, the Patriots would likely turn to Jimmy Garoppolo to face the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans and Bills. (There’s also the possibility — although highly remote, from this viewpoint — that New England will find a serious challenger for Garoppolo with an eye toward grooming him as a starter for the first four games of the season. Former Patriots backup Brian Hoyer, who is available as a free agent, could be a possibility.) That will also inevitably start talk about how “vulnerable” New England is when it comes to its standing in the AFC, but the division as well. One thing that’s certainly in their favor is the fact that the Patriots play three of the four games at home, and those three home games came again teams that were a collective 22-26 last season. If Brady does sit, it’s a far more palatable option than the one New England would have faced if Brady sat out the first four games of the 2015 season.