After months of rhetoric, the Deflategate situation was finally settled Thursday, as U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman overturned New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the scandal.
Brady released a statement on the ruling Friday:
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports passed along a portion of the ruling that said the suspension was "premised upon several significant legal deficiencies."
Will Brinson of CBS Sports also shared a key segment of Berman's decision:
He also cited the "league's inadequate notice, failure to produce Jeff Pash and denial of equal access to investigative files," per Phil Perry of CSNNE.com.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later released a statement, per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, saying the league will appeal Thursday's decision:
After the ruling, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe passed along word from a league source who said the league would not look to seek a stay of the ruling, which would keep Brady off of the field.
As for the two draft picks the Patriots lost in the league's discipline, Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com reported the franchise is "highly, highly, highly unlikely" to try to get those picks back.
"To go back on that now would really cast Robert Kraft as someone going back on his word," Curran said. "As a result, it's highly, highly, highly unlikely that the Patriots would try to recoup those draft picks. However, there is an extreme feeling of validation (in the Patriots' organization) right now."
In the aftermath of Berman's ruling, Adam Schefter of ESPN was blunt in his assessment, saying, "That's an embarrassment for the NFL," per SportsCenter.
Meanwhile, Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs for the NFLPA George Atallah expressed his joy following the announcement:
The NFLPA later released a statement in reaction to Berman's ruling and the league's collective bargaining agreement:
The rights of Tom Brady and of all NFL players under the collective bargaining agreement were affirmed today by a Federal Judge in a court of the NFL’s choosing. We thank Judge Berman for his time, careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result.
This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly, illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed.
We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans. This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to far better results.
"Hopefully, the owners will engage us in a process for meaningful change," an NFLPA source told Ed Werder of ESPN.
Owner Robert Kraft issued a statement regarding the news, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
However, no one was more overjoyed at the news than the Patriots, reacting on Twitter to the return of their quarterback:
Rob Gronkowski also expressed his joy at having Brady under center for Week 1:
An unnamed Patriots player was a bit more blunt in his assessment when talking to Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, saying: "Tom was screwed by [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell and now Goodell has to live with getting his ass kicked in court. Yet again."
NFL on ESPN provided a look at Goodell's history of having his suspensions overturned:
The four-time Super Bowl champion was initially suspended in May after the NFL determined there was reason to believe he had something to do with footballs being underinflated during the Pats' AFC Championship Game win over the Indianapolis Colts. Brady appealed, but Goodell upheld the decision.
That led to Brady and the NFLPA filing a lawsuit against the NFL in July to get the suspension overturned, and it has taken until now for a resolution to occur.
It was determined in a report authored by Wells that it was "more probable than not" Brady was involved in Deflategate.
La Canfora poked fun at the report following the reversal of the suspension:
Gabe Feldman, an NFL Network legal analyst, weighed in on how Wells' report was used to overturn Brady's punishment:
Goodell supported that notion and pointed toward Brady's decision to have his cellphone destroyed prior to a meeting with Wells as a sign the signal-caller had something to hide, per a portion of his ruling provided by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:
On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, 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, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.
The two-time NFL MVP disagreed with that ruling and explained the controversy surrounding his cellphone in a Facebook post:
I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline. ...
To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time.
The NFL and NFLPA were locked in a stalemate, which forced the court to get involved. Even so, Berman urged the two sides multiple times to reach a settlement rather than allow him to have the final say.
As the case progressed, Berman pressed the NFL for "direct evidence" that implicated Brady, but the league was unable to produce any. He also questioned the impact the underinflated footballs had in the AFC Championship Game, according to ESPN.com.
"Turns out, Mr. Brady did better with higher inflated balls than underinflated balls," Berman said. "You might say he got no competitive advantage."
At the same time, Berman didn't buy in to Brady being unaware he was throwing deflated footballs, nor did he question the absolute power given to Goodell in the collective bargaining agreement, per Stephen Brown of the New York Daily News:
While both sides made compelling, convincing cases in many respects, it was ultimately determined there was no legal basis for the NFL's decision to suspend Brady for four games.
That means New England will have the benefit of its future Hall of Fame quarterback under center when it opens the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10, continuing a historic streak, as SportsCenter pointed out:
For quite some time, it looked like the Pats would be forced to start second-year man Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for the first four games of the season. That would have jeopardized New England's AFC East title and playoff chances, but the team now looks to be among the top Super Bowl contenders once again.
Not only is this a massive victory for the Patriots, but it is also significant for the NFLPA since the decision diminishes the commissioner's power to hand down punishments without direct evidence.
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