Attorneys for the National Football League and the NFL Players Association, along with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and commissioner Roger Goodell, took to a New York City courtroom on Wednesday to begin laying out their arguments amid sluggish settlement talks.
Brady continues to fight his four-game suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal. Goodell personally upheld the punishment, which led the NFLPA to go the legal route.
NFL attorney Daniel Nash argued Brady had no basis for a legal appeal because he was afforded all of the rights guaranteed under the league's current collective bargaining agreement, as noted by Stephen Brown of the New York Daily News, who covered the public hearing.
Nash made a concession by stating: "Is there a text in which Mr. Brady instructs someone to put a needle in a football? No there is not such direct evidence." He also explained other evidence "clearly indicates Mr. Brady’s knowledge and encouragement of this activity," though.
Brown pointed out United States District Judge Richard Berman found it difficult to believe a quarterback wouldn't know he was working with deflated footballs. But Berman also had a problem trying to find a conspiracy directly related to the AFC title game.
"You have to show that conspirators intended to be in the conspiracy...Is there a meeting?" Berman said.
Brady's attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, tried to separate the quarterback from any deflation connections. "Even the NFL...does not try to contend any player can be disciplined for being aware of someone else’s conduct," he said, per Brown.
Kessler stated that Jim McNally, one of the Patriots staff members involved in the scandal, could have tampered with the balls because he thought it would help Brady. Berman didn't understand why that would be considered without getting the quarterback's consent, however.
Brady's representation reiterated a point that's been made several times throughout the proceedings, which is that Ted Wells never made it clear to Brady he could be punished for his level of cooperation with the investigation.
Kessler explained the Patriots star had privacy concerns during the investigation, and his agent, Don Yee, told him not to communicate with Wells because of that. Kessler admits that part of the situation could have been handled better. Still, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, he argued that there's "no legal basis" for Goodell's decision and that had the NFL fined Brady for not cooperating, "we wouldn't be here."
On the topic of Brady's cellphone, Kessler said: "He gets phones all the time! Whenever he gets one, he gives (the old one) to his assistant and says get rid of the phone!"
Brown noted the attorney got fired up throughout the oral arguments.
Berman previously pushed the sides to work toward a settlement agreement before Wednesday's hearing. The NFL and the NFL Players Association met Tuesday but apparently made no progress toward a deal.
Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported the talks "went nowhere" as the league continues to seek an admission of guilt from the Patriots quarterback. Chris Mortensen of ESPN added the NFL wants Brady to "accept [the] Wells report," which isn't an acceptable outcome for the NFLPA.
Goodell wouldn't elaborate on the nature of the talks, stating: "We've had discussions. Will cooperate with judge's order and let process go from there," per Tom Pelissero of USA Today.
If an agreement isn't reached in the near future, the court proceedings will begin to move forward by the end of the week, as noted by Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
"If the sides do not reach a settlement Wednesday, they will file briefs by Friday, similar to the 15-page briefs from last week that stated their positions," Reiss reported. "They have scheduled Aug. 19 for a second conference with Berman, who has been asked by all involved to make a decision by Sept. 4 if a settlement can't be reached."
At roughly 5:20 p.m. ET, Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports captured a Vine of Brady leaving the courtroom:
Neither Brady nor Goodell stuck around to speak with the media, according to Judy Battista of NFL.com.
Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association DeMaurice Smith offered a brief comment that didn't reveal much about the negotiations, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network: “We won’t be making a formal statement other than to say we had a productive day in court. We’ll get back to work on the issue.”
The new NFL season is slated to start on Sept. 10, with the reigning champion Patriots taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both sides have requested a resolution about a week before that game so Brady can prepare for Week 1 or New England can get Jimmy Garoppolo ready to start, depending on the outcome.
If the current suspension is upheld, Brady won't be eligible to return until Week 6 against the Indianapolis Colts, the foes from the AFC title game when this mess began. The Patriots have their bye in Week 4.
Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated explained Brady would still have further options if his initial appeal is denied. His chances of success at the next stage would decrease, however, even if he's just trying to delay the suspension so he can play in the opener.
"If Judge Berman confirms the suspension, Brady could file an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He could also petition for a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction," McCann said. "The odds would be decidedly against Brady at that point, as Judge Berman's order would be accorded high deference. In all likelihood, Brady would be forced to sit out the first four games of the 2015 regular season."
The NFL and Brady, with NFLPA backing, have dug in their heels at this stage. The league wants some type of admission of wrongdoing to prove this wasn't a wild-goose chase. The Patriots legend has continued to maintain his innocence throughout the ordeal.
"Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship Game in January," Brady wrote in a Facebook post last month. "To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong."
He would need to do a complete 180 to go from that statement to the admission of guilt the league seeks to reach a settlement. So, barring an unforeseen development in the coming days, it sure seems likely the case will be decided by the courts.