Monday, May 11, 2015

Brady Busted

Brady, who has not missed a game since 2008, will sit out the first four of 2015 (EW)
In America you are innocent until proven guilty, but not in the NFL.

The New England Patriots were severely punished for their role in Deflategate, which was finally put to rest with today's punitive actions. Tom Brady, who according to the Wells reports (I'm paraphrasing here) "probably knew something about the balls being deflated," was suspended four games and will spend September watching his equally handsome backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, cut his teeth under center. As if that weren't bad enough, his team was fined $1 million and must also forfeit next year's first round draft pick as well as a fourth-round pick (so random) in 2017.

This is an obvious show of force by Roger Goodell, who handled all of last year's scandals with about as much care as a toddler would with a full carton of eggs. After drawing heavy fire from fans and media for being too lenient in punishing Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, he overcompensated by drawing a line with the Patriots (reminiscent of how Bud Selig went after Alex Rodriguez). Goodell sees being tough on the Pats as a quick fix for his shattered reputation, and an easy one at that given how universally reviled they are outside New England for their previous infractions.

The Patriots effectively got screwed for the next three years, and that hardly seems fair given how speculative the Wells report actually was. Most of the evidence against Brady and co. was circumstantial at best, pure conjecture at worst. The report lacked the concrete evidence one would want for a conviction, especially since scientists quickly debunked Deflategate. Like Oliver Stone's JFK, the paper made some damning claims without backing them up with, you know, facts.

Lack of sound basis aside, this is obviously a huge blow to the Patriots, who will have to face Pittsburgh, Buffalo on the road, Jacksonville, and Dallas on the road without their franchise signal-caller. It's a very real possibility that New England is 1-3 when Brady returns, which would put them in an even bigger hole than their terrible start last year. The defending Super Bowl champs are still the best team in their division and should have no problem making the playoffs (unless Brady balloons during his layoff the way Pablo Sandoval did last winter), but reclaiming the AFC's top seed now appears out of the question.

Given that Brady's going to be 38 next year, it's probably a good thing that he'll get an extra month of rest at the beginning of the season, especially after seeing what happened in the second half last year to Peyton Manning at the same age. Brady needs all the recovery time he can get at this stage in his career, and I'm more than okay with him sitting out September if it keeps him fresh in January.

Still, the harshness of these penalties leave me with more questions than answers. I wonder if Brady's suspension would have been less harsh had just come clean during that awkward press conference. I also wonder how the punishment would have differed had New England lost the Super Bowl. Malcolm Butler may have saved the day, but at the same time might have inadvertantly hurt his team down the road. The league loves making an example out of the Pats whenever they got caught for doing the same things everyone else admits to doing, and what better way to send a message than by dinging the top team in the league.

And is it really just a coincidence that Brady's first game back will be against, who else, the Indianapolis Colts? Let the conspiracy theories begin.

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