FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s back to the waiting game for Tom Brady.
After making his case in a 10-hour hearing, Brady’s fate is in the hands of Roger Goodell. Just when the NFL commissioner will announce his decision to uphold, reduce or eliminate Brady’s four-game suspension in “Deflategate” is uncertain.
“I think that’s going to be sooner rather than later,” Marc Ganis, who is the president of SportsCorp consulting firm and has a close relationship with many league owners, said Wednesday. “One of the criticisms of this whole matter has been the way it’s dragged on.”
The NFL announced in late January that attorney Ted Wells would head an investigation into the New England Patriots use of underinflated balls in their 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18.
More than three months later, the 243-page Wells report was issued, saying it was “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware” that footballs he used were improperly deflated by team personnel.
Five days after that, on May 11, the NFL suspended Brady four games, fined the Patriots $1 million and docked them two draft picks. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has accepted the team penalties.
But Brady appealed and, more than six weeks later, had his hearing before Goodell in New York on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what the timetable is,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney who represented Brady at the hearing. “I think we put in a very compelling case.”
Once Goodell reaches a decision, the league must craft the wording precisely so it would withstand legal scrutiny if Brady decides to challenge it in court.
Goodell must decide “as soon as practicable,” according to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
It’s been nearly a month without a ruling since the hearing for Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy before arbitrator Harold Henderson. Hardy was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2015 season in a domestic violence case.
Here are some questions that remain more than five months after Brady used underinflated balls:
WILL GOODELL KEEP ALL OR PART OF THE SUSPENSION?
While Brady likely shared information with Goodell that he didn’t provide to the Wells team, the commissioner needs to regain credibility, especially in light of his fumbling the Ray Rice investigation. If Brady presented a convincing case at the hearing that he had no role in or knowledge of the deflation, Goodell could absolve him of that. Brady then could accept that decision indicating he didn’t cheat or gain a competitive edge, even if it comes with a two-game suspension for not cooperating fully with Wells.
WILL THE SUSPENSION BE RESCINDED?
This extreme step poses a risk to Goodell from other NFL owners, especially with his close relationship with Kraft, at least before Deflategate. Goodell was tough on the Patriots in the Spygate scandal, fining coach Bill Belichick the NFL maximum of $500,000 and the team $250,000 for spying on New York Jets defensive signals in a game in 2007.
WILL BRADY SUE?
There are competing factors in any decision to sue to get the suspension eliminated. Brady hasn’t been a vocal union supporter and prefers to minimize distractions. But with Kessler representing him and Brady’s desire to clear his name, a lawsuit could be forthcoming. “Jeff loves having a cause of action against the NFL,” Ganis said.
Kessler helped get suspensions reduced for New Orleans players in the Bountygate scandal. In February, he represented Adrian Peterson before a federal judge who overturned an NFL suspension that had been upheld by Henderson.
WILL BRADY PLAY THE SEASON OPENER?
Whatever Goodell decides, Brady can participate in training camp starting in late July and in preseason games. The season opener is set for Sept. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a marquee Thursday night matchup between the Super Bowl champions and a team led by another star quarterback. Ben Roethslisberger vs. Tom Brady? Wow! Roethslisberger vs. Jimmy Garoppolo? Woe.
A court injunction could allow Brady to play in that game and others. But that poses the danger that the court would affirm a suspension later in the season, when the drive for playoff spots is peaking.