Tom Brady lied.
That's the "more probable than not" conclusion reached by super sleuth Ted Wells, whose comprehensive, legitimate and weighty report was released Wednesday.
This is the key segment. This is the part that will lead to a re-examination of a great player's legacy:
For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, 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.
If you read the rest of the report (Warning: Content contains NSFW language)—including where Wells writes of Brady, "We found [his] claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence"—you'll know that by "more probable than not," he means, "Oh yeah, Brady definitely lied."
Flash back to when the accusations first surfaced and Brady swore he did nothing wrong.
"I didn't alter the ball in any way," Brady said at a press conference. "I have no knowledge of wrongdoing."
Brady looked uncomfortable. It was the most uncomfortable I've ever seen him in front of a camera. Now we know why. Because he was lying.
A source close to the investigation said a suspension for Brady is "definitely on the table. Not set but could be part of the mix. All options are on the table."
The source also said a punishment of the team remains a possibility. The reason, the source said, was that Goodell has precedent. In the Saints' Bountygate case, Goodell said that ignorance was no excuse, that the coach should have known. Something similar was said with Atlanta pumping in fake crowd noise. Rich McKay, the president of the team and head of the competition committee, was suspended from his committee duties despite him knowing nothing of the fake noise.
The reason this is serious is in-game cheating. The fact that the Patriots would have beaten the Colts regardless doesn't lessen that fact. That's not the point. The point is, if it wasn't a competitive edge, if Brady didn't know it would be, then why would they do it?
The NFL can't have players and teams simply re-engineering the rules as they see fit. This is not a silly issue, as the owner, Robert Kraft, has always tried to portray it. This is not a joke. This is bad. Really bad.
Patriots fans will say there is no evidence, and there is indeed no camera footage showing Brady with a bicycle pump and a football. This is a circumstantial case, to be sure, but it is the Halle Berry of circumstantial cases.
McNally gave himself the nickname "The Deflator," according to the report. I mean, you can't make this stuff up.
The report is part stunning investigation, part science, and part Deep Throat. Wells penetrated, as he did in Miami during Bullygate, the closed and guarded environment of the NFL locker room. This report is legitimate, stunning and bad for Brady. This will impact his legacy greatly.
There are three highly problematic issues for Brady.
First, the report also points out Brady deceived Belichick:
Belichick asked Brady directly whether he had any knowledge about any of the issues raised by the press since the AFC Championship Game. According to Belichick, Brady said "absolutely not." Belichick stated that he then asked if Brady or anyone Brady knew had tampered with or in any way altered the footballs. Brady again denied any knowledge or involvement. Belichick recalled that Brady also explained that once he inspects and approves game balls, those balls are exactly as he likes them and that he would not want anyone to do anything to them after that point. Belichick believed Brady. Belichick and Brady attended the team meeting, and Belichick told the team that there was "not one shred of truth" to the deflation allegations. When given the floor, Brady repeated what he had told Belichick about wanting game balls to be exactly as he approved them.
So Brady wasn't just dishonest about the story overall, but he also misled his own coach.
The second problem for Brady is investigators say flat out in the report they didn't believe several of his explanations.
The third problem is the text messages between Brady and others, and that he refused to turn over his phone to Wells, who nonetheless discovered that there was an "increase in the frequency of text and telephone communications between Jastremski and Brady" after the AFC Championship Game, shortly after suspicions of ball tampering became public on January 19.
Brady didn't refuse to turn his phone over because there was too much Flock of Seagulls on it. He refused because he didn't want Wells to see what he was trying to cover up.
As the report states:
Text messages most plausibly read as describing a conversation between Jastremski and Brady during which Brady mentioned McNally and said that McNally must have "a lot of stress" trying to get the footballs "done." ("Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done...").
Those messages and the others cited in the report crush any rational person's view that he's innocent. McNally and Jastremski talk in them about deflating footballs.
Brady will still be seen as one of the greats. That's not in jeopardy. Yet what this report will do is the same thing Spygate did to the Patriots. Critics of this great franchise say that Spygate tarnishes all of the Patriots' titles. I've always believed that is nonsense.
Now the same will be said of Brady. It does not eradicate every great thing he's done, but it does raise legitimate questions. How long has Brady been doing this? If it wasn't such a big deal, why lie about it so extensively? Why cover it up? Just to protect a squeaky-clean, Facebook-joking image? Or was there something deeper?
Just how long has Brady been cheating? That is the legitimate question that must now be asked. And this is why Brady's legacy is now seriously impacted forever. Because we just don't know. What we do know is that Brady cheated and misled in this case. That's the truth. That's a fact.
Go ahead, Patriots fans. Blame the media. Blame me. Blame Roger Goodell. Blame it on a rogue ball boy. Blame it on the Colts. Blame whomever you want. But most rational people, most people who don't have a horse in this race, will blame Brady, as we should.
Because Tom Brady lied.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.