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.

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Before Cam Newton suits up for the New England Patriots, he has some homework to do. And he's already opened his textbook.

The veteran quarterback, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with New England in late June, shared a photo Tuesday via Instagram of himself with a cup of coffee and what appears to be the Patriots' playbook.

"This s--- calculus!!" Newton joked.

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The Patriots have a notoriously complex playbook, and it appears Newton is finding that out after nine seasons in Carolina.

Our Tom E. Curran reported there's "no concern" in New England that Newton won't master his new offense, though, and the 31-year-old QB already digging into his playbook helps explain that confidence.

Newton also tagged Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team's longest-tenured offensive player (not counting special teamer Matthew Slater). Edelman responded on Instagram with his own acknowledgment that figuring out New England's playbook is like decoding a tricky math problem.

If Newton can return to full health after undergoing offseason foot surgery and pick up the offense quickly, that should add up to a successful season for the three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP.

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modeling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: According to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.