Patriots

Curran: Goodell taking power trip to next level. Predictably.

Curran: Goodell taking power trip to next level. Predictably.

FOXBORO – Somehow, 129 years ago over in England, Lord Acton presaged Roger Goodell’s tenure as NFL Commissioner.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men," Acton said. Acton, if you’re wondering, was from England, future home of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the ever-expanding fiefdom of Goodell and the NFL.

We are learning this week that doom-and-gloom “Watch what happens!” warnings after rulings affirmed Goodell’s power on discipline matters weren’t just worst-case scenarios. The Commissioner has slammed his tank into overdrive and is threatening suspensions for James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal if they don’t speak with the league regarding Al Jazeera’s January story accusing these men and Peyton Manning of using PEDs.

They won’t be bounced for using PEDs. They’ll be bounced for refusing to talk. For “obstructing an NFL investigation.”

Here’s the problem with this little fascist end-around.

The NFL’s PED policy has a passage entitled: “Reasonable Cause Testing For Players With Prior Positive Tests Or Under Other Circumstances” which states in part “Any Player testing positive for a Prohibited Substance, including a Player who tested positive or for whom there is sufficient credible evidence of steroid involvement (can be tested).”

There’s a footnote next to “sufficient credible evidence of steroid involvement” and that footnote lists what the NFL and NFLPA agreed was “sufficient credible evidence.” It states, “As used in this Policy, sufficient credible evidence includes but is not limited to: criminal convictions or plea arrangements; admissions, declarations, affidavits, authenticated witness statements, corroborated law enforcement reports or testimony in legal proceedings; authenticated banking, telephone, medical or pharmaceutical records; or credible information obtained from Players who provided assistance pursuant to Section 10 of the policy.”

The NFL has none of those things. And if it wants to include Al Jazeera’s report in the “not limited to” category, well hell, fellas, you already deemed it not credible in exonerating Peyton Manning. So how can it be sufficiently credible enough to make an exception for now?

As Harrison said Tuesday, “Somebody could come out and say James Harrison is a pedophile. They are going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a pedophile just because somebody said it? I’m not going to answer questions for every little thing some Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with.”

We’ve all been pseudo legal experts for the past 20 months, but the guy with the best read on the Goodell’s power-mad mindset and his likely success has been …. Harrison.

Last September, just before Judge Berman vacated Brady’s suspension, Harrison predicted Goodell would ultimately win.

“To be honest with you, I don’t see what a federal judge can do with something the players signed in the collective bargaining agreement, which gives Roger Goodell (power) to do what he wants to,” said Harrison. “And if that’s the case and he’s going by the letter of what he says, there’s nothing (a judge) can do.”

When Brady’s suspension was reinstated last month, Harrison chastised his fellow NFL players for voting in favor of the Collective Bargaining Agreement passed in 2011 that gave Goodell the kind of power he now enjoys. The Steelers were the lone NFL team to vote against the CBA (by a 78-6 vote) and Harrison took the lead in arguing against approval precisely because of the power Goodell would have to ride herd on players.

Now he’s in the crosshairs.

On Tuesday, I asked Bears kicker and NFLPA rep Robbie Gould about Goodell’s ever-increasing power and the down-the-road ramifications for all players.

“It’s a tough situation for anyone to have to go through but that’s the league that we live in now,” he said. “It’s tough because that’s the CBA we agreed to as players and that’s what they agreed to as owners so, is it fair? Everyone’s gonna have a different opinion on it. It’s tough to see one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League (Brady) have to go through that. Talk about respecting the logo or respecting the league, I have a lot of respect for what Tom’s done for the National Football League.”

The players agreed to Goodell exercising power within reason, not dispensing his “own brand of industrial justice” which is what Judge Berman ruled Goodell did in Brady’s case. Since he got away with hanging Brady for non-cooperation – despite Brady being told by investigator Ted Wells he didn’t want Brady’s phone, despite Wells’ saying he didn’t want personal communications then court documents showing that the NFL culled personal communications (i.e. the white pool cover), despite Wells saying Brady answered every question and Brady offering testimony under oath at his appeal hearing – Goodell obviously now feels further emboldened.

He can now twist and contort virtually any action to fit it under the “conduct detrimental” umbrella.

Any player refusing to submit to the NFL on bended knee – any player submitting but not doing so in a submissive enough way! – is a marked man. The league made that very clear in its tongue-bath statement exonerating Peyton Manning – cooperate and you won’t be dragged behind the horse and carriage through the middle of town. Resistance is futile.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.