Instead of taking victory laps on Tuesday, Roger Goodell would have been better off spending his day on the phone telling NFL owners that it was time to cash out on Deflategate.
Now is the perfect time for the NFL to make a deal.
The league has the ruling it needs confirming Roger Goodell can run a sham investigation, frame a player, punish a player and then sit in judgment of that punishment.
That’s what Goodell kept saying the whole court process was about – affirming the power of his office. So why wait for the NFLPA and Tom Brady to make the next move, which will be trying to get this thing heard again? Why take a chance Brady gets his en banc review in front of all the Second Circuit judges and the NFL gets its face pushed in for the second time?
Goodell can look benevolent if he shaves Brady’s suspension down to two, one or no games at all. He can also stop the heavy flow of money that the league’s hemorrhaged in trying to prosecute Brady. And he can redirect attention away from this disaster and back onto the field.
Owners like John Mara were sick of this thing last August. Tie it off now before it extends into this August. The whole NFL gets to chortle this week when the Patriots spot in the first round get skipped. A potentially good player they’d have had for six to eight seasons will never play a down for them. Won’t even exist. The Brady thing? Really, it’s overkill.
Proposing to slice the suspension isn’t going to be met with unanimous approval. Starting within the league office. Lead NFL counsel Jeff Pash, VP of Operations Troy Vincent and league operations people who started bungling this thing at the outset won’t want to see the boot come off Brady’s neck now that he’s pinned under it.
Brady and the union were willing to at least discuss deals last summer but Pash in particular wasn’t having it. “Cop to everything and we’ll see what we can do,” was the demand sent back to Brady and his people. Goodell would love to get up, dust off his jacket, straighten his tie and fix his cuffs then walk away like nothing happen. But Pash – the lawyer that Goodell isn’t – won’t advise that course.
Some of the league’s other owners will resist too. Start with the Bidwills, Pegulas, Stephen Ross and Bob McNair – owners of the teams the Patriots play in the first four weeks. Then skip to addled Colts owner Jim Irsay. Then toss in all the other teams whose football people snipe at the Patriots and whisper to their owners, “Don’t feel bad for the Patriots. Think of all the things they’ve gotten away with.” It’s the football people from the Ravens, Colts and Jets that got this thing started, remember? They’re the ones that put their owners and the operations people on alert, filling their heads with urban legends of warm Gatorade, bugged locker rooms, trash-can pilfering and ball tampering.
Even if Goodell wanted to cut a deal and actually got clearance to pursue one, what would Brady have to say to make a deal palatable?
That he should have cooperated fully at the outset? That Goodell had the right to discipline and didn’t abuse his arbitrator’s power? That would be hard enough for Brady to do. It was already made clear he was fighting for the rights of players when he didn’t cooperate. And Brady’s entire case has been built on proving Goodell’s malfeasance as arbitrator.
Or will the NFL ask for more? Will they really make him go to the league on bended knee? Ask him to give up McNally and Jastremski or acknowledge that footballs were tampered with. That’s not going to happen.
There has to be a “quo pro” if Brady’s going to get his “quid.”
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday that there’s no end in sight. Atallah added that the one conciliator in the league, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, can’t be counted on now.
“The one owner who comes to mind (as being able to broker a settlement) at this point, and he had such sway in 2011, also happened to be on the receiving end of these penalties,” Atallah said of Kraft. “Unless somebody else from that ownership group, from that management council, steps up and shows some necessary leadership here, again, I don't really see how that's going to happen.”
Or maybe it’s time for the Commissioner to lead on something for a change. To realize the game’s integrity is truly compromised when he plays the puppet to a league that wants the best team’s best player erased for a quarter of the season. Or more.
We’ve been talking about balls for 16 months. Now would be an opportune time for Goodell to prove he has them. Figuratively speaking. Of course.