A federal appeals court has ruled that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must serve a four-game Deflategate suspension imposed by the NFL, overturning a lower judge and siding with the league in a battle with the NFL Players Association.
"We hold that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness," the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday in a 2-1 decision in New York.
Brady, however, is not prepared to accept Monday's appeals court ruling and is exploring all his legal options with his attorneys, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The decision by a three-judge panel may end the legal debate over the scandal that led to months of football fans arguing over air pressure and the reputation of one of the league's top teams. It is also likely to fuel a fresh round of debate over what role, if any, the quarterback and top NFL star played in using underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game in January 2015. The Patriots won the contest over the Indianapolis Colts and then won the Super Bowl.
This has been a joke from the start. The idea that under-inflated footballs would result in a $1 million fine, loss of a 1st round draft choice and a four-game suspension of the team's QB is way over the top. In a way, the Patriots have only themselves to blame given the Spygate scandal from 2007. Granted previous offenses shouldn't be a factor in any new wrongdoings, but then the NFL doesn't operate under the same guidelines as the legal system.
"Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all. Nor is it our role to second-guess the arbitrator's procedural rulings," Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote in the majority opinion. "Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act."
The 2nd Circuit said the contract between players and the NFL gave he commissioner authority that was "especially broad."
I've been saying all along that the NFL Players Association has no one but themselves to blame for the Commissioner's ability to be heavy handed when meting out punishments for player misconduct. During negotiations to end the NFL owners' lockout of players in 2011, the NFLPA focused most of their energy on how the revenue was distributed. That's not to say it wasn't an important issue, but it seems very apparent they didn't give much consideration to player discipline issues. Betcha that that'll be rectified next time the Collective Bargaining Agreement is to be renewed.
So what kind of recourse does Brady and the NFLPA have available?
The NFLPA and Brady can petition for a re-hearing in front of the same panel and then the entire 2nd Circuit Court or take their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, though either move is unlikely and would be a steep, costly and time-consuming climb. They would have to request a stay of Brady's suspension during an appeal.
The NFL has the option of implementing the full suspension or attempting to reach a settlement and avoid further appeals.
To avoid potential further embarrassment, it's possible Goodell may offer to reduce the suspension to, say, two games. However, there were rumors that Goodell offered to reduce the suspension last year but Brady declined given that such an acquiescence would have implied some culpability on the QB's part.
I honestly have no prediction as to how this will be resolved. The whole situation is beyond parody at this point.