After an investigation linking Tom Brady to an operation in which members of the equipment staff purposefully deflated balls below league specifications, the NFL has suspended the Pro Bowl quarterback four games without pay, per Albert Breer of NFL Network.
Breer supplied NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent's statement to Brady as well:
With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots' employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence. Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football. The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules. Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.
Per ESPN's Darren Rovell, Brady will lose $1,882,353 from the suspension.
Breer also announced, per the NFL's release, that the New England Patriots were fined $1 million and will lose a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft. Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots' fine is the largest in NFL history. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network quoted Vincent's statement, saying, "While we cannot be certain when the activity began, evidence suggests that 1/18 was not the first and only occasion."
Bleacher Report NFL insider Jason Cole reported Wednesday that Patriots owner Robert Kraft could consider a lawsuit against the league:
Kraft released a statement supporting Brady, per Doug Kyed of NESN:
CBS News provided a statement from Brady's agent, Don Yee, confirming an appeal is coming:
Andrew Brandt of ESPN reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee will hear the appeal.
The league launched an investigation not long after Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson noticed something amiss following his interception in the second quarter of New England's 45-7 romp in the AFC Championship Game.
ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen reported the Wednesday after the title game that officials found that all but one of the Patriots' balls were under-inflated.
A source told WEEI.com that the Patriots switched to backup balls, which officials tested for proper inflation, during the second half. New England scored 28 of its 45 points in the second half, so many have spent time speculating about severity of the NFL's course of action.
Led by Ted Wells, an investigation into the matter was launched, taking more than three months to complete.
The 243-page report (warning: includes profanity) uncovered text messages between Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski seemingly implicating Brady as the head of an operation lasting far longer than one game. What follows is a conversation from October 2014:
McNally: Tom sucks...im going make that next ball a f----n balloon
Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done...
Jastremski: I told him it was. He was right though...
Jastremski: I checked some of the balls this morn... The refs f----d us...a few of then were at almost 16
Per Breer, the NFL announced that the Patriots have suspended Jastremski and McNally indefinitely.
Wells wrote in his report that it was "more probable than not" that Brady was at least tangentially involved.
"Based on the evidence, we also have concluded that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls," the report said.
Rapoport noted that the NFL gave Brady "extraordinary safeguard by investigators to protect unrelated personal information" when it came to turning over his cell phone for evidence.
Neither the Patriots nor head coach Bill Belichick were implicated as having been involved. The report nonetheless contradicted the stance from New England, which went on the offensive before its Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks.
"I believe now 100 percent that I have personally and we as an organization have absolutely followed every rule to the letter," Belichick told reporters at a press conference that at times delved deep into a scientific study he said the team conducted.
"I feel like I've always played within the rules," Brady said, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. "I would never do anything to break the rules. I believe in fair play, I respect the league and everything they're doing to try to create a competitive playing field for all the NFL teams."
Mortensen cited a source saying the league was "disappointed...angry...distraught" over the situation.
The NFL's rules manual calls for a minimum $25,000 fine for teams and/or coaches who were found to have knowingly tampered with a game ball. Because of the high-stakes nature of the game, many were quick to call for swifter action from Goodell.
While it was never plausible that Goodell would dole out the most extreme penalty—some wanted punishments ranging from Belichick's firing/suspension to the Patriots' outright removal from the Super Bowl—it was hard not to be curious about what the NFL would do.
The league has been engaged in a constant off-field public relations nightmare since the beginning of the 2014 season. Deflategate marred the on-field product before the sport's biggest spectacle. Given the Patriots' history of questionable tactics—one of Goodell's first major decisions after becoming commissioner was how to handle the Spygate scandal—the situation cast a pall over Super Bowl week.
The league office had a tricky situation on its hands, having to weigh the boundaries of the pre-existing penalties against public outcry. By letting the Wells investigation play out, some of the anger has subsided. That said, it was important that Goodell put his stamp on a lengthy investigation with this decision.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.