Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Cheating Accusations Complicate Patriots' Legacy

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2018

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  An Arizona Cardinals fan wearing a deflated football hat hold up a sign referencing Deflategate during the team's NFL game against the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. New England won 23-21.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Are the Patriots who we think they are? Redesigning the NFL's Mount Rushmore and, reluctantly, a Super Bowl pick. All this and more in the Super Bowl week edition of the 10-Point Stance.

    

1. The Book of New England: A Compendium of Cheating Scandals

It's the Super Bowl, which means two things are likely: The Patriots are in it, and the Patriots are being called cheaters. 

No, whether or not they are considered a team that broke the rules won't alter the number of trophies in their offices, but it is important to examine the allegations in their totality because they factor in to the legacy we assign the team. Different people will believe different things about the Pats, but let this Bible of Patriots Cheating stand as an attempt to clarify what that legacy is.

When you look at the accusations, and the conclusions you can draw from them, a clear picture emerges. More on that in a moment.

And now there are fresh new accusations against the Patriots about cheating. More on that in a moment, too.

First, let's go over each scandal. Much of what I write below is based on my extensive reporting for years on each scandal as well as other news sources.

    

Spygate. This remains both the most misunderstood and weaponized of all the "gates." As a reminder, the Patriots in 2007 were fined $250,000, Bill Belichick $500,000 and the franchise docked a first-round pick for spying on the Jets in a regular-season game. Ask Rams players who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, though, and they'll tell you the Patriots taped their walkthrough years earlier. Receiver Isaac Bruce reiterated the belief yet again last week to Barstool Sports.

The problem is there was never proof the Patriots taped practices. The Patriots taped defensive signals during games.

ESPN's Outside the Lines detailed the extensive videotaping system the team used, but in the end, the actionable information was little.

That hasn't stopped the speculation over the years, and it's not just Rams players. Some Eagles coaches believed the Patriots had their signals in Super Bowl XXXIX. Steve Spagnuolo, the linebackers coach for the Eagles in 2005, told 97.5 The Fanatic's Anthony Gargano and Bob Cooney (via Rob Tornoe of Philly.com) this week that late Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson thought the Patriots cheated:

"The biggest thing we learned was make sure you have two signal-callers, not one signal-caller, because they may have all your signals. I remember through the course of the game Jim saying, 'They're getting our signals. They know when we're blitzing ... try to hide it.' I remember distinctly thinking, 'I don't think so, Jim, just concentrate on calling the game.' In hindsight, he was right. When you go back and look at that tape, it was evident to us. ... We believe that Tom [Brady] knew when we were pressuring him because he certainly got the ball out pretty quick."

That last sentence shows how some of this has taken on a ridiculous life of its own. Brady getting the ball out quickly isn't exactly the stuff of conspiracies.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The fear of the Patriots' surveillance capabilities is widespread. Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace told PFT Live on Tuesday that he, too, believes the Patriots cheated back when he and the Rams lost Super Bowl XXXVI.

"There's a little bit of suspicion there," Pace said. "I think guys all feel that way. They had a pretty solid game plan for us, so I don't know. ... They knew exactly what we were going to do down there."

It's worth noting many teams, if not all of them, stole defensive signals during games. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who both played in the NFL and was an executive, tweeted Tuesday:

When Jack Del Rio was coaching the Jaguars in 2007, he said watching the other team's sideline to steal signals was commonplace.

Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said on Fox in 2008:

"This is exactly how I was told to do it 18 years ago by a Kansas City Chiefs scout. I tried it, but I didn't think it helped us. Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches.

"These players don't know what their coaches are doing, and some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That's why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn't make Belichick right, but a lot of teams are doing this."

It's just that the Patriots, being the Patriots, did it more extensively. Then they kept doing it after the league warned teams.

The Patriots were punished more for being arrogant about it than the action itself. They defied the league office, which had ordered every team to stop.

Conclusion: Spygate was less about actual intelligence gained and more about Belichick thumbing his nose at the league. So if there was nothing to gain, the argument goes, why did he do it?

Because Belichick is obsessed. All coaches are.

    

Deflategate. The phrase "more probable than not" became almost a punchline. The NFL concluded it was likely Brady and the team had a system of deflating footballs. I believed Brady was guilty early on, but the NFL never fully proved its case. In fact, the investigation was so shoddy it changed the minds of people like me who were certain Brady had done it.

Conclusion: We could disappear down the Deflategate rabbit hole for years. Brady may have cheated, and there are tangible benefits to deflating footballs, but, again, we have to ask: If Brady did do it, how much did it help?

This is his eighth Super Bowl, so ask yourself if making it to eight Super Bowls was all because of deflating footballs.

    

Stealing play sheets. I've heard this rumor for years, and Outside the Lines added some details to it. Teams often use scripts, detailing the first couple of dozen plays or so—and put them on paper. Players then study those scripts and do so leading right up to the start of games.

Sometimes, they'd leave the scripts in the locker room during pregame warm-ups, and Patriots officials would scour the locker room, looking for them.

Conclusion: Despite the rumors, there is no proof.

I'd also ask this question: If a team leaves its scripts in the locker room, unattended, knowing the Patriots sometimes do shady things, then is it cheating if that team is dumb enough to let them do it?

    

Sabotaging headsets. This belief gained steam after the season opener in 2015, when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his headsets got a Patriots radio broadcast during the game, and, "That's always the case." I was there when Tomlin said it, and I almost spit out my clam chowder.

While the NFL said the problem was caused by a combination of inclement weather and a stadium power issue, Tomlin's insinuation echoed the sentiments other teams had said to me and others for years.

Conclusion: This one I believe is true, mainly because teams tell me every franchise, including the Patriots, has tampered with opponents' communications.

    

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with James Harrison #92 after winning the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Pho
Elsa/Getty Images

Bugging opposing locker rooms. This falls into the realm of James Bond, I know, but coaches and players I know swear it's true. Peyton Manning used to step outside the locker room when at Gillette Stadium to discuss strategy.

Conclusion: Again, no proof.

    

Signing players to gain intelligence on their former teams. No team signs other teams' players—before they play their old team—as much as the Patriots. They recently did this with James Harrison for the possibility the Patriots might play the Steelers in the postseason.

Conclusion: This isn't cheating. This is genius.

    

Using trick formations. Not trick plays but formations that push the boundaries of the rules—without breaking them. The Patriots outcoached and outsmarted the Ravens using one of these unconventional formations.

Conclusion: This isn't cheating. This is genius.

There's a lot of smoke surrounding the Patriots, but when you compile all the allegations in one place, one thing is clear.

There's not a lot of fire.

    

2. How the Eagles Can Win

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

I asked an NFC head coach before the Patriots played the Jaguars how the Jaguars could win.

"Run effectively, and hit Brady," he said. "Baltimore Ravens a few years ago."

The Jaguars did that...for a little bit. Then Brady became Brady and lit them up.

But the formula remains the same, and no team has done it more effectively than the aforementioned Ravens.

In the 2012 AFC Championship Game, won by the Ravens 28-13, Baltimore picked off Brady twice, and he had a passer rating of 62.3. The Ravens hit Brady constantly while their offense racked up 33 runs for 121 yards.

The Eagles, to me, are similar, minus Ray Lewis, of course. Philadelphia can generate a solid pass rush, and it can run the ball effectively. So while the path to beating the Pats may be narrow, it does exist.

    

3. Best Question of Super Bowl Week...So Far

Reporter to Eagles coach Doug Pederson: "Why are you not grumpy like the other coach?"

Pederson, giggling, in an aw-shucks way: "I don't know."

I nearly died laughing.

    

4. A Lost Cause

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 28:  Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens pushes Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings out of bounds during the NFL Pro Bowl between the AFC and NFC at Camping World Stadium on January 28, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by
Alex Menendez/Getty Images

This year's Pro Bowl was like many others recently: There was almost an embarrassing lack of tackling.

It's clear as crystal that there's a gentleman's agreement between the players to limit contact. The minute someone is touched, they go down. Or out of bounds.

It's impossible to blame the players. The game is meaningless, so why risk your career for a pointless exhibition?

This remains the paradox the league faces with the Pro Bowl. The players don't care, so how do you make the fans care? The football is foreign to what we think of as football.

These problems remain mostly unfixable. Throwing extra money at the players could help, but because the game has no weight—winning or losing doesn't matter—the game will always lack physicality and depth.

    

5. Players May Be Eyeing Push for Guaranteed Contracts

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Ryan Shazier #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts as he is carted off the field after a injury against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by J
John Grieshop/Getty Images

USA Today surveyed a number of players about issues affecting the league, including their feelings about Commissioner Roger Goodell and head trauma. It was interesting.

Perhaps most telling, the Jaguars' Marqise Lee spoke about the need for guaranteed contracts as he mentioned the horrific collision involving Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier in Week 13. Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury from which he is still recovering.

"You might say player safety, but you can go with bread," Lee said. "The biggest aspect is guaranteed bread. All these other sports ... in hoops, they may get an elbow every now and then, but we're out here taking shots. Crazy shots.

Lee said more in light of what Shazier is facing: "For him not to have as much guaranteed bread [as players in some of the other major professional team sports] is ridiculous. You know what they're going to hit you with: 'You've got more players in football.' But look at the money [the NFL] makes every year."

    

6. XFL May Be a Threat, but Not to the NFL

Despite it being Super Bowl week, there was a lot of talk in the league office, and among teams, about the resurgence of the XFL.

The general feeling is that the XFL isn't a threat to the NFL. Agreed.

There is, however, a belief among some in the league that Vince McMahon's venture will attack college amateurism, positioning itself as an alternative to college football's system. "Go to the XFL out of high school, play there for money, and then go to the NFL after three years," might go the recruiting pitch. Players would get to make money for themselves instead of universities and millionaire coaches.

That may end up being the best strategy for the new league. It might also be the only one that can work.

    

7. Eagles Face Tricky Balancing Act

Two-time Super Bowl-winner Lawrence Tynes, who played for the Giants as their placekicker, raised an interesting point on Twitter recently, and it's something I hadn't thought of:

Foles just turned 29 and Wentz 25. Wentz is more talented, has a better arm and runs the offense better.

Still, what if Foles beats Brady? What if it's Foles who delivers the Super Bowl to the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia?

There isn't a quarterback in football—hell, there isn't a player in football—who would win a Super Bowl and then go back to the bench.

It's likely there won't be any controversy and that Wentz will go right back into the starting lineup when he is healthy.

But Tynes has a bit of a point.

Foles signed a two-year deal, and a trade would lead to a $6.1 million cap hit for the Eagles, per Spotrac, but it might be the way to go. If Foles does win (and even if he doesn't), the market for him next season could be gigantic. The Eagles could parlay that into a nice haul of draft picks at least.

A deal would also prevent the potential for a sticky situation should Wentz stumble after his return. True, both Wentz and Foles are class acts and likely wouldn't allow things to get tense. But it doesn't mean it wouldn't get interesting.

    

8. Some New Additions to NFL's Mount Rushmore

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Recently I tweeted about how I thought two Patriots—Brady and Belichick—deserved to be on the NFL's version of Mount Rushmore. This caused quite a reaction. People thought I had slipped and hit my head.

That may seem like the case most days, but not on this. Belichick won two Super Bowls as an assistant with the Giants. He's seen, by many of us who study NFL history, as the best defensive mind of all time. He devised the brilliant scheme in Super Bowl XXV that allowed Thurman Thomas to get his yards while the Giants physically punished the receivers in Buffalo's K-Gun offense enough to limit their production.

As coach of the Patriots, he's been to another eight Super Bowls. That's 10 total. Brady has now been to eight Super Bowls himself.

It's sometimes easy to take for granted what they've done or say they've accomplished it because of cheating or a weak division, but these two have reached 18 Super Bowls collectively—something we may never see again.

How you define who is on an NFL Mount Rushmore is complex, but it's not binary. It can be about impact and just pure, naked winning. My four would go something like: Belichick, Brady, Jim Brown and Jerry Rice. I might swap Rice for Pete Rozelle, but you get the idea.

That's a debate for another day, though. What is clear is that the Patriots have reshaped and continue to reshape the history of the NFL.

    

9. A Simpler, Naive Time It Was

STEVEN SENNE/Associated Press

Let me take you back to the Year 2000. The Patriots caused a stir by hiring Belichick after he resigned after being tabbed as New York Jets head coach following Bill Parcells' retirement. The move to hire Belichick after he had been fired in Cleveland four years before was seen around the league as a potential disaster.

Owner Robert Kraft has talked before (including to me) about how a number of people in the league told him not to hire Belichick. It remains, to this day, one of the greatest hires any owner has ever made yet also one of the biggest risks.

Eight Super Bowls later, it looks like the move turned out pretty well for everyone involved, except for the Jets and Browns, but that's nothing new.

    

10. The 10-Point Stance Super Bowl Pick

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

We here at 10-Point headquarters hate picking games. We hate picking games the way Kirk hates Klingons who killed his son. We hate picking games because we're always wrong. There. We said it. Don't @ us.

It's the Super Bowl, however, and not picking the Super Bowl would be a criminal act, and we don't want to go to jail. So here goes...

This is a simple choice. Essentially, going against Brady would be foolish. This isn't to say the Eagles can't win.

Yet strictly from a hardcore football analytical standpoint, going against Brady is dumb. He's lost two Super Bowls, but overall, in moments like these, he's remarkable. Going against him would be doing so just to be contrarian.

Patriots 24, Eagles 17.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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