Curran: Deflategate's been eternal, and there's no rest in sight

Curran: Deflategate's been eternal, and there's no rest in sight

Five hundred days have passed since Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the first half of the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Jackson handed the ball to David Thornton, the Colts director of player engagement, who handed the ball to Colts assistant equipment manager Brian Seabrooks, who instructed an equipment intern to check the air pressure in the ball. The intern measured it at approximately 11 PSI. Seabrooks then handed the ball to equipment manager Sean Sullivan. Days prior, Sullivan had crafted an e-mail to his GM, Ryan Grigson, stating that he and others around the league believed the Patriots tampered with footballs after official inspection. Sullivan told Grigson the Colts must remain vigilant. Grigson forwarded the email to NFL VP of Operations Mike Kensil and asked him to be on the lookout during the game. Sullivan, believing he had his smoking gun, alerted Kensil. Within an hour Kensil was stalking the Patriots sideline, telling team employees, “You're in big (bleeping) trouble.”

Actually, Mike, it turns out that everybody was.

That intern’s needle plunge (deep breath) . . . spawned a legal fight whose costs are probably pushing $30 million, led to a suspension and a stain on the greatest quarterback in NFL history, created a blight on the NFL commissioner from which he won’t recover, exposed a fracture within the league’s ownership, ushered in a new low in the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA, introduced us to Ted Wells’ mustache, the nickname Dorito Dink, Bill Belichick’s affection for the movie My Cousin Vinny and the pressures of being a courtroom sketch artist.

Oh, and it may have gotten Mike Kensil shipped to China.

I don’t know how it is for you, but for me it’s something that wasn’t there at all, suddenly appeared, and is now a part of my everyday life. Some days more than others. It’s a hemorrhoid, is what it is. (Sorry.)

Deflategate has made all of us conversant in the Ideal Gas Law, Article 46 of the CBA, a very narrow slice of labor law, the interesting relationship between the NFL offices and their favorite Washington law firms, and the term “industrial justice.”

It brought to prominence -- at least here in New England -- the work and words of legal cognoscenti like Michael McCann, Daniel Wallach and Stephanie Stradley.

It’s shown -- perhaps as no other story could have done -- the transformation of “traditional” media from one rooted in objectivity to one demanding “takes.” It’s also shown how changeable “takes” can be. The “cheating Patriots” dog whistle that brought a million snarky posts into existence last January and February have yielded now to a time where the number of people that care or believe the Patriots cheated is trumped by the number who view Goodell and the NFL as the bad guys here.

For me, a few moments really stand out.

-- Brady’s impossibly awkward press conference when the NFL’s leaked info at 11 of 12 footballs were underinflated by two PSI.

-- Belichick’s Saturday press conference before the team’s departure for the Super Bowl -- the Mona Lisa Vito one that I’ll personally remember as the “I JUST SAID THAT, TOM!” press conference.

-- Ted Wells’ angry conference call.

-- Wells’ and Goodell’s evasiveness and indignation when I suggested the notion of a sting.

-- NFL lawyer Jeff Pash mentioning in San Francisco last May that he enjoyed my column when I described him as Goodell’s “little nut-twister.”

-- Kensil telling me at the 2015 owner’s meetings that he was “so angry” at me and promising we’d talk when it was all over.

-- Kensil telling me at the 2016 owner’s meetings that he doubted we’d ever be talking.

-- Brady in front of his locker last September after his suspension was overturned by Judge Richard Berman, getting emotional when talking about the impact the entire process had on John Jastremski, Jim McNally and Brady’s family.

-- Four trips to New York to stand on the sidewalk outside a Manhattan courthouse -- three in the heat of summer. Knowing each time that, while I wasn’t covering world-changing events, I was front row for something that people really cared about and wanted information on. Fast.

-- Goodell refusing to answer the question of what a PSI violation was at the Super Bowl in San Francisco.

-- A highborn NFL suit acknowledging the league didn’t care about PSI anymore, only the “process” and “chain of command” related to the footballs on game day.

After 500 days, the only question that matters now is the only one that should have mattered then:

“Is there any proof the Patriots tampered with footballs after inspection prior to the AFC Championship Game?”

The answer is no.

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."