The Saga Continues: Tom Brady's Suspension Upheld

What's next after Tom Brady's suspension was upheld. 

The saga continues. Today we got word that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was upholding Tom Brady’s four game suspension for his part in “Deflategate.” The discipline falls under the leagues personal conduct policy where the Commissioner has near carte blanche to hand down any fine or suspension he sees fit for actions that are deemed detrimental to the integrity of the league.

As the league stated in their release, new information helped lead to Goodell’s decision. On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells, Brady directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed. He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone. ‎During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages.  The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18th, almost four months after the investigators had first sought these texts from Brady.

 

The leagues announcement went on to state that based on the Wells Report and the evidence presented at the hearing, Commissioner Goodell concluded that Brady was aware of, and took steps to support‎ the actions of other team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels called for by the NFL’s Official Playing Rules. The Commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence 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 underlying scheme to alter the footballs. 

After announcing the decision today, the NFL launched a carefully coordinated preemptive strike by immediately filing a motion in a Manhattan federal court seeking to confirm that the procedures the NFL followed were valid and legal under the collective bargaining agreement. The reason the NFL did this was to force any suit by Brady or the NFLPA to be heard in a court possibly more sympathetic to them, as opposed to the federal courts in Massachusetts or Minnesota. Particularly, the NFL feels that Minnesota federal district Judge David Doty is more sympathetic to unions and their members.  Most recently, Judge Doty vacated the suspension of Adrian Peterson and ordered his reinstatement. The NFL then appealed that ruling; an appeal that is still yet to be heard despite the NFL voluntarily reinstating Peterson many months later.

Just as the NFL suspected, almost immediately after todays ruling, Tom Brady and the NFLPA came out to state that they plan to file suit in Minneapolis and ask the court there to either rule before the Patriots season opener or grant injunction that lets Brady play.  A filing in Minneapolis will lead to a battle over which venue has proper jurisdiction, since the filings are most likely duplicitous. Even the battle over proper venue can take time, and time is clearly not on Brady’s side here.

One major problem Brady faces is that court cases can take a very long time to be heard, and if the NFL loses, they can then appeal the ruling, which takes even longer. As previously mentioned, we saw this in the Adrian Peterson case, where Peterson won in court, but the appeals hearing has still yet to be even heard. So unless Brady gets an injunction against the NFL, allowing him to play while the court case moves forward, he will miss the four games regardless. Unfortunately, an injunction is not very likely since Brady would have to show that he would suffer "irreparable injury" for which there is "no adequate remedy at law” in addition to proving that he has a very good chance of winning the case. This is going to be very difficult to prove and achieve, especially if the suit moves forward in New York, which is most likely. If Judge Doty in Minneapolis does eventually hear the case, he could certainly grant the injunction, but it could set a bad precedent for future labor disputes and most legal analysts see this as unlikely, although not impossible. 

Nonetheless, the initial stages of the court case will not deal with whether or not Brady is guilty of the charges, but rather a motion by the Brady team to determine if the process followed by Goodell was legal. In Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Goodell has full discretion to hear player appeals over personal conduct matters. So in court, the standard of review they will be looking at is whether or not Goodell is applying the CBA in a reasonable manner. Brady will argue that by being a member of the CBA he did agree to Goodell having authority, but he never agreed to a process that would be totally unreasonable. Proving Goodell’s actions were totally unreasonable will be difficult to do especially since the CBA gives him the power to make these decisions as he sees fit.

Looking at past history as a guide, in the Saints Bountygate scandal, the federal judge in that case eventually did rule against the NFL and kicked the case back to Goodell, who simply altered some of the suspensions and re-imposed them two days later. Goodell then turned it over to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who after many months eventually vacated the suspensions. This could certainly happen here, but Brady is still missing those four games so the net result for fantasy teams is the same, Brady missing time.

For fantasy we just care about the bottom line, which is that Tom Brady is going to miss nearly a third of the fantasy season and is not going to be playing until Week 6, since the Patriots have a bye Week 4.

Drafting Brady as your starter is not advisable unless you have another high-end backup. Second year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was a highly productive college player that has good arms strength and accuracy, although with some mechanical issues like many players out of college.  ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss noted that during OTAs he was sharp in terms of receiving the play-call, getting everyone lined up properly, making checks and then delivering the ball on time and accurately.

If Garoppolo can continue to impress that will bode well for the Patriots skill players, but without Brady, weekly numbers for players like Brandon LaFell and the diminutive Julian Edelman take a hit, while Rob Gronkowski’s numbers should remain fairly stable as Garoppolo’s safety blanket. 


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