The NFL Commissioner doesn’t share any morsels of information by mistake.
Which means that Roger Goodell was basically sending up a flare when he said that, “One of the things that (Ted Wells) would be asked to look for: Was it just one game?”
Wells, as you know, is leading the investigation into how the Patriots came to have a number of balls that were under-inflated at halftime of the AFC Championship game.
And Goodell’s heads-up that this is an expedition that will go back for years aligns with what I was told at the owner’s meetings last month. The investigators – led by Wells and the NFL’s lead attorney, Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead attorney – are kicking over rocks and riffling through drawers to find whatever they can to justify their suspicions. It also jives with the belief in Foxboro that Mike Kensil, the NFL’s VP of Game Operations, harbored suspicions about the Patriots prior to January 18 and that Pash and Wells are trying to get someone to corroborate the suspicions.
The NFL actually gave advance notice of how far it intended to go in its January statement which read in part: “The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action. … Our investigation will seek information from any and all relevant sources and we expect full cooperation from other clubs as well. As we develop more information and are in a position to reach conclusions, we will share them publicly.”
Let’s unspool this a little bit.
First, it appears the league believed it could “catch” the Patriots with underinflated footballs. But it seems as if the evidence (recorded measurements prior to the game, at halftime and setting those balls aside) didn’t happen. So the league needs somebody with the Patriots to sing. Which is why they’ve been through Gillette Stadium more than once interviewing all ball-touchers.
All’s not lost if the league can’t get that, though. Goodell’s acknowledgment that the investigation will stretch back into prior games (perhaps prior seasons?) and the initial statement saying “cooperation from other clubs” would be sought means that anecdotal evidence is going to be in play.
So if the Ravens, Steelers, Jets or Bills want to ring up Park Avenue and say, “Hey, we thought they had soft balls in November of 2010…” that information will find a friendly ear.
Which brings me back to something I read Monday from Steelers GM Kevin Colbert.
Speaking about negative predraft information leaks that hurt the stock of incoming college players, Colbert said, “I think it’s horrible. I think it’s really bad for our profession when people use whatever means they use to get information out to try to influence the draft and they talk about a kid’s test score, a kid’s injury, a kid’s character. I think that’s awful. It’s disrespectful to our profession, it’s disrespectful to the game, it’s disrespectful to the kid.”
The relevance of Colbert’s assertion is that, if it’s accepted teams are willing to spread bad news about a kid in hopes of having a shot at HIRING that kid, imagine how willing those teams would be to say something about a rival organization if those teams knew it would make life tough for their rival?
Not too hard.
The 100 (and counting) days this report has spent in the oven and the millions of billable dollars Wells’ firm has pocketed isn’t going to be for naught.
The league made it clear from the start, they planned to shake the tree as long as they needed to in order to bring down an acorn of evidence that the Patriots may have been running a ball-deflation operation.
So we wait.