The NFL and Tom Brady need to cut a deal and kill Deflategate for good

Tom Brady

Now that they have each won a round in court the best thing Roger Goodell and Tom Brady can do is split Brady’s four-game suspension and move on.

Neither man has a reasonable point left to make that will justify months and years of appeals to a Supreme Court that will probably tell them to get lost anyway. 

Nobody should be surprised that on Monday the NFL won the right to suspend Brady in the case known as Deflategate. The questions from the three US second circuit court of appeals judges in last month’s hearing made clear they believed the league’s players had given Goodell, as NFL commissioner, the power to punish them through their last labor deal. Whether you think Goodell has become a dictator run amok was always irrelevant to this case. It was more about the league trying to preserve a right they had won from a players’ union attempt to seize it in court. 

But football fans don’t want years of courtroom wars over a controversy that has simmered for 15 months now. They don’t care that the NFL v The League’s Most Famous Quarterback has long stopped being about who did what to those footballs that day in New England and has turned into posturing over a clause in the CBA. An endless labor fight waged in a courtroom is of interest to no one save for a few lawyers with unlimited billing hours. After a time, nobody – not Brady, not his team the New England Patriots, the players or the NFL – wins.

What the appeals court said on Monday in restoring Brady’s suspension is that the NFL’s players gave Goodell a broad power to punish them when they negotiated their last CBA and that much of the parsing of the league’s Deflategate report has been irrelevant. The court also said that Goodell had a reasonable, legal right to assume Brady was hiding evidence when he destroyed his phone with its texts to the Patriots equipment men who were accused of deflating game balls for him. 

These points alone will make it tough for Brady to continue winning in court. There is a chance he could land another hearing before the full second circuit, but such hearings are rare. All another appeal would do is table further the uncertainty of his suspension, leaving the Patriots to spend another summer in limbo, wondering if their quarterback will be able to play the first quarter of the season or not.

Likewise, the NFL’s win was little more than a temporary block against player challenges to league suspensions. Even if Brady sits the first four games of next season, other players will be emboldened by the way he has been able to draw out a punishment he was supposed to serve last year. The NFL Players Association has always had better success suing the league than they have during labor stoppages where leverage is hard to maintain. The league has never been at their best fighting on courthouse steps. Forcing Brady to serve his full suspension risks more legal tussles that will be a public relations disaster.

The punishments Goodell gave Brady and the patriots in Deflategate never made sense. They were arbitrary and extreme. One of Goodell’s great flaws as a commissioner is his habit of ruling by public relations, overreacting to the biggest cases by delivering outrageous sanctions that don’t fit the crime. Suspending Saints coach Sean Payton a year and general manger Mickey Loomis six months over the team’s bounty program was ridiculous. Hammering Brady for four games and taking away New England’s first-round pick in this week’s draft for squeezing air from game balls was like killing a wasp with a sledgehammer.

If Goodell felt the need to be harder on New England in Deflategate because many teams feel he wasn’t strong enough on the Patriots when they were caught filming the New York Jets signals in a 2007 game, then his point should have been made by now. In refusing to give back to New England the first-round pick he snatched away, he has weakened the Patriots far more than any advantage Brady got from a slightly softer game ball. The rest of the NFL now knows he can hit New England as hard as anyone else.

Both Brady and Goodell have now had their victories and after months of wrangling we are right back to where we were 50 weeks ago with the Patriots losing a first-rounder and Brady staring at a four-game suspension. The fight can go on but what will it yield? The Patriots aren’t getting back into Thursday’s first round and Brady’s suspension isn’t likely to get overturned again. Any further attempt by the NFL to crush Brady will come with the risk of alienating fans and advertisers who don’t care that the league stopped a labor maneuver to the relief of their billionaire owners.

There is no more winning left in Deflategate. The lawyers can go home now. Roger Goodell and Tom Brady need to do what they should have done way back in February of 2015. They need to sit in a room, find a way to cut Brady’s suspension and get back to football.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Les Carpenter, for theguardian.com on Monday 25th April 2016 20.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010