The NFL’s longest running soap opera wrote a new chapter on Monday. Tom Brady’s on-and-off suspension is officially on again. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided to reinstate Brady’s Deflategate suspension, which was previously overturned by Judge Richard M. Berman in September. It’s a gut punch to the Pats, who will now be without their UGG-wearing, beagle-owning, bad-at-dancing, franchise quarterback for the first four games of 2016.
By virtue of winning their division for the seventh year in a row, the Pats face a difficult slate this season with games against division winners Houston and Arizona. Both of those contests will occur during Brady’s suspension, with the other two matchups coming against Miami in Week 2 and Buffalo in Week 4. The Pats have lost to Miami three years in a row while the Bills have finished .500 or better in each of their last two seasons. Neither of those games are freebies.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. New England certainly did. The first signs of trouble started brewing last month when Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported the Patriots were “bracing” for Brady to lose his appeal. Brady needed to win over two of the three judges but fell short. Only Robert Katzmann ruled in his favor with Denny Chin and Barrington Parker Jr. both siding with the NFL. New England had been a 6-1 favorite to win the Super Bowl but those odds are sure to take a hit with Brady sidelined for the first four games.
We’ve been hearing about Deflategate for 15 months, which seems like a laughable amount of time to spend on something as inconsequential as ball pressure. But because of New England’s past transgressions and their iconic head coach and star quarterback, the storm continues to swirl, falling dormant for months at a time only to resurface stronger each time. It’s been rich theater with Brady and Roger Goodell both cast as villains. While the ordeal has exposed many of the league’s flaws, it’s also reaffirmed just how powerful the NFL’s brand is. Even with Brady’s image tarnished and Goodell shamelessly prioritizing Deflategate over more pressing issues like CTE, we’ve continued to watch with bated breath as the beautiful train wreck has unfolded.
So where does Brady go from here? Tom seems to be running out of courts to appeal in. At this point, he can either bite the bullet or lawyer up and bring the case to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to clear his name. With all the time and resources he’s already spent on fighting this, Brady may be better off taking his medicine and ending the cycle. Faced with the reality of a four-game suspension, Brady must be regretting not taking the NFL up on their offer for a reduced suspension last summer. Of course, taking two games instead of four would have been admitting guilt and Brady hasn’t been willing to do that.
Does the punishment fit the crime? Probably not. Goodell seems to have gone out of his way to make an example out of Brady after having past punishments overturned (Adrian Peterson and Bountygate to name a couple). But destroying his cell phone—which will likely be remembered as Brady’s undoing—showed that Touchdown Tom had something to hide.
If the Patriots did indeed flaunt the rules to gain an edge (your stance on this probably depends on how many times your team has lost to New England over the years), we can all agree it was an unnecessary risk. New England could have played with beach balls and still stomped the Colts in the AFC Championship. But that’s never been Belichick’s style. He always wants more. Belichick’s penchant for pushing the envelope is what makes him a Hall of Fame coach but Spygate and Deflategate have undoubtedly complicated his legacy.
Obviously Jimmy Garoppolo is a downgrade for the Patriots but that could be said of almost anyone. Brady is an all-time great quarterback and those don’t grow on trees. With that said, Garoppolo has some interesting pieces around him. For starters, Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL and new addition Martellus Bennett has also proven to be a very capable receiver. New England waved goodbye to underachiever Brandon LaFell this offseason, replacing him with hidden treasure Chris Hogan. Danny Amendola has been productive in spurts while Julian Edelman remains the NFL’s gold standard for slot receivers.
Last year when I wrote a similar article to this (maybe I’ll write a third next year after Brady brings his case to the Supreme Court), I predicted New England would lean heavily on its running game without Brady. But now I’m a year wiser and I’ve seen enough to believe New England will continue to throw the ball, with or without Brady. Both of New England’s running backs, LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, are coming off injury, so I don’t see a workhorse emerging from this backfield. Blount only reached 20 carries in a game once last season while Lewis had more targets (50) than rushing attempts (49). With Brady no longer able to throw a consistent deep ball (not to mention New England hasn’t had a deep threat since Randy Moss left), the Pats have put a strong emphasis on their short passing game in recent years. In essence, the Pats use three and four-yard dump-offs the same way other teams hand the ball off to a feature back. Given New England’s personnel and their quarterback’s inexperience, I’d expect that trend to continue when Garoppolo takes the reigns in Week 1.
Garoppolo isn’t some guy New England signed off the street, either. He’s a second-round pick and someone the Patriots seem to have a lot of faith in. New England was ready to hand him the keys to the offense last year before Brady’s suspension was overturned.
Of course, employing him in fantasy will take a leap of faith. Not only does he have an expiration date (Week 5) but Garoppolo will be facing two of the league’s premier pass defenses in his first three games. Houston allowed the third-fewest passing yards last year while Arizona gave up the eighth-fewest. Both games will be broadcast in primetime, which should be quite an adjustment for a quarterback who spent his college days playing at relatively anonymous Eastern Illinois. The Patriots aren’t a rebuilding team and Garoppolo doesn’t have time to make mistakes. He has four games to go out there and get results. While I probably wouldn’t target Garoppolo in season-long leagues, his high volume and reasonable price could make him an interesting DFS play.
My gut tells me Brady’s suspension will motivate the Jets to hammer out a deal with Ryan Fitzpatrick. The two sides have been at a standstill all offseason but now there’s blood in the water. The rest of the AFC East will be chomping at the bit to dethrone the mighty Pats. New York was a win away from the playoffs last year and could make a run at the division title if the Patriots struggle without Brady. Their best chance to do that is with Fitzpatrick under center.
If Fitzpatrick doesn’t come around, perhaps the Jets will dangle Muhammad Wilkerson as trade bait to move up for Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Sam Bradford wasn’t thrilled about the Eagles trading up for North Dakota QB Carson Wentz. He could also be for sale, though his annual salary is even higher than what Fitzpatrick is asking for. If the Jets are serious about changing the balance of power in the AFC East, they’ll need to upgrade on Geno Smith and they’ll need to do it quickly.
Quick Hits: Johnny Manziel has been indicted by a Dallas County grand jury on a misdemeanor assault charge. His ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley has also filed a restraining order, preventing Manziel from seeing her until at least 2018. Manziel’s career isn’t over yet but it’s hanging by a thread … Josh Norman was about to sign his franchise tender when the Panthers “blindsided” him by rescinding his tag. Carolina’s best offer was for four years and $44 million, well below the five-year, $75 million agreement he reached with Washington on Friday … NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan hears there’s a 99.9 percent chance the Rams will draft Jared Goff first overall. That’s been the consensus as the Eagles traded up to No. 2 specifically to grab Carson Wentz, knowing the Rams would take Goff at No. 1 … Eliot Shorr-Parks, also from NJ.com, expects the Eagles to trade Darren Sproles to a contender. The two-time Pro Bowler could be available for a fifth-round pick … According to NFL Network’s Albert Breer, UCLA LB Myles Jack has been diagnosed with a “chondral defect” in his right knee. Jack’s medical recheck at the Combine didn’t go well and now there’s a good chance he’ll fall out of the top 10 … Browns beat writer Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Depository expects Cleveland to target Alabama RB Derrick Henry with the No. 32 pick. If he goes to Cleveland, Henry would be the early-down enforcer with Duke Johnson playing the Giovani Bernard role on passing downs … Trent Richardson has shed 22 pounds this offseason. The former first-round pick signed with Baltimore last week … Nobody failed a drug test at the Combine this year. Randy Gregory wasn’t drafted until the end of the second round after testing positive for marijuana at last year’s Combine … ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer expects Lance Dunbar to begin the year on the reserve/PUP list. Dunbar tore his left ACL, MCL and patellar tendon last October … The Jets are not expected to exercise Dee Milliner’s fifth-year option. The Jets have already exercised Sheldon Richardson’s option for 2017 … Darrelle Revis had pins removed from his surgically-repaired right wrist last week. Revis Island should be ready for training camp, though he won’t be available for OTAs in June … The Chiefs signed former Buccaneers and Bills receiver Mike Williams on Monday. Williams scored 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010. He wasn’t in the league last season … Roger Goodell attended a rally in San Diego last weekend and promised to let the city host an upcoming Super Bowl if a new stadium is built. The Chargers and the NFL plan to contribute $650 million for construction costs. The city will have to raise the rest of the money through hotel tax hikes … Le’Veon Bell’s recovery from a torn MCL must be going pretty well. Case in point: this monster slam … Denver signed Garrett Graham to a one-year contract. Graham played for Gary Kubiak in Houston from 2010-13 … Kelvin Benjamin was limited at OTAs last week but he’s not expected to have any restrictions at training camp this summer. He missed Carolina’s run to the Super Bowl last year with a torn ACL … Cam Newton surprised some seventh-graders by hopping the fence to play a little pickup football. It’s not every day you get to toss the pigskin around with a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL MVP.