It's easy for people to entertain the idea that the New England Patriots are cheaters, but the latest round of allegations that they falsify injury reports is a complete waste of our time.
Former Patriots Brandon Spikes (now of the Buffalo Bills) and Aqib Talib (Denver Broncos), have alleged—Spikes to WGR-FM in Buffalo, via Mike Rodak of ESPN; Talib at a press conference, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN—that the Patriots' use of injury reports has been, shall we say, creative.
I heard they put me on IR and stuff like that. That was just a false report. That's just how things go there. Almost like what happened with [Aqib] Talib and his hip. That was just from the labor throughout the season, man. It was just—you know how it is—it's a tough 16 games. All I needed was rest and rehab.
As for Talib, he said that the Patriots didn't even have the right body part as they reported his injury, claiming he had a quad injury, while the Patriots reported it as a hip injury. Now, the quad and the hip are somewhat near each other (if I remember my children's songs correctly), but certainly the Patriots wouldn't be trying to lie and cheat to get a competitive advantage, would they?
The Patriots fudge their injury reports? Really??? No way. Can't be true. Then again, find me a team that doesn't.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) March 19, 2014
It's like Spygate all over again!
Except it's not, it's not at all.
The timing of these gripes is, frankly, fishy. Like Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker last season, it seems as if former players—once away from the Patriots facility and the cold, viselike grip of a certain grumpy head coach—need to air some grievances.
Welker, for his part, just poked a little fun at Belichick's penchant for controlling the narrative. Welker, like Spikes, has always been a bit of a character and probably didn't exactly appreciate the control Belichick exerted over his expressions of personality.
ESPN's Field Yates, who has covered the Patriots, brought up that exact comparison with me, saying about Spikes: "There were times you could sense he wanted to open up a little more. I’m not sure I would’ve labeled him as disgruntled, but there was some rumblings that this wasn’t a fit."
Of course, Spikes also seems pretty surly about the trip to IR he was sent on last season. Yates brought up that the Patriots have linebackers they like more than Spikes, and things were pretty clear early on that Spikes wouldn't be a Patriot much longer.
It seems that Spikes' beef may be more that the IR was used to open up a roster spot when he could have potentially played his way back to health.
So, you know, something teams do all the time.
Spikes just doesn't like that they did it to him.
However, the other side of the story, relayed here by NFL agent Jack Bechta on Bleacher Report back in 2009, is that sometimes players are placed on injury reserve so quickly that the team actually finds it expedient to release them with an injury settlement.
There is, literally, something in place for teams to do exactly what Spikes is alleging. This isn't just done in the NFL; it's a normal practice blessed by ownership and can actually help some players in the long run—if only by stopping them from going through what Jackson went through.
Matt Bowen, NFL Lead Writer at B/R, also went through this injury settlement process. He recounts the tale here, and (frankly) what he went through is far more underhanded than anything Spikes may believe the Patriots did to him:
The previous week, the Rams training staff asked me to go work out on the field for the first time since the injury. And to be honest, I didn’t think twice about it as a naïve player in my second season in the NFL.
Work out? Sure, why not?
Bad move, kid.
After I showed the trainers that I could run, cut, jump and backpedal through a half-speed workout, I was viewed as a “healthy” player.
And that meant they could cut me loose.
Spikes may think he could have played, but the Patriots didn't, and that's their decision to make. Things could've gone much worse for him, and throwing barbs back at New England now that he plays for a divisional opponent just looks silly more than anything else.
As for Talib? That gripe may be even more absurd.
USA Today actually took a look at injury reports—including, but not limited to, quarterback Tom Brady's lengthy stint on it—back in 2007. In that report, the injury report was called a "game within the game" and made note of how the Patriots (as well as other teams) obfuscate information in the injury report by "reporting every little nick to a player, making it difficult to tell who's really hurt."
Even more interesting—and pertinent to Talib's case—is this quote from former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher:
"Sometimes when a guy had an ankle [injury], I might list it as a knee, just because I didn't want people knowing where to take shots at my players."
Oh, so there's public acknowledgment of the fact that this isn't a Patriots-only issue as well. While the Patriots' motives may not have been as player-friendly as Cowher's, we don't know that they aren't, either. We probably won't ever know what the Patriots' motives about anything are, because they're not going to talk about them.
The Patriots did not respond to any requests to comment on this column, and the NFL offices declined comment on this specific allegation. Though the Patriots could be fined if wrongdoing is found (as teams have been in the recent past), it isn't as if Belichick would open up and become Chatty Cathy all of a sudden.
At best, we might get something shorter and even more curt than what Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said to The Baltimore Sun after the Ravens were fined in 2012 (h/t NFL.com): "There's no credence on the injury report now. It doesn't mean anything. It has no value. The injury report has no value."
This does not sound like something Bill Belichick would do “@ProFootballTalk: Spikes, Talib say Patriots file false injury reports”— Eric Stangel (@EricStangel) March 20, 2014
Maybe it does have some value. It allowed a couple of players to lob barbs at their former team, safe from the comfort of their new city. Hey, the barbs are even believable, because fans in cities not in the New England area will literally believe anything that will explain why the Patriots have been consistently one of the best teams in the NFL for the better part of many of their lifetimes.
In the end, nothing is going to come from these allegations, just like nothing came from the Houston Texans claiming that the Patriots were spying on them—one of the worst teams in the NFL—in Houston. Not in New England, not at a neutral site—no, the Texans actually decided to make the ludicrous claim that the Patriots were somehow spying on them in Houston's own facility!
Spygate happened. It happened a long time ago, but it happened. Because of that, the Patriots and Belichick will always have to deal with nonsense like Spikes and Talib are accusing them of. For the rest of us, however, it's probably better just to move on and realize that this injury report stuff isn't worth any more of our time.