With the release of the transcript from Tom Brady's Deflategate appeal hearing, we're finally getting some transparency on a controversy that has dragged on far longer than anyone would've hoped or expected.
Whether or not Brady was masterminding a plot to deflate footballs will never be truly known because that will not be the focus of Judge Richard Berman, the U.S. District Court judge based in Manhattan who is presiding over the case. No, Berman's sole responsibility is to decide whether or not the punishment process was fair to Brady and, after a review of the appeal transcripts, the prognosis looks far better for Brady than when the NFL was controlling the message.
In the last collective bargaining agreement the NFLPA gave the Commissioner total and final power over punishment, a move that has looked more and more foolish with each new controversy the league has faced. Now Deflategate might just be the straw that breaks the Commissioner's back, if not potentially costing him his job, or at the least costing him absolute power when the next CBA is negotiated.
Most disturbing from the Brady appeal transcript is the revelation of contradictory information to what Commissioner Roger Goodell stated as one of his reasons for upholding Brady's original punishment — the contents of Brady's phone and text conversations with the assistant in charge of preparing the game balls, John Jastremski, just after the Deflategate controversy broke.
Goodell stated: "In response to the question, 'Why were you talking to Mr. (John) Jastremski in those two weeks?,' Mr. Brady responded, in sum: 'I think most of the conversations centered around breaking in the balls.'"
The key words there are "In sum," because in reality Brady made plenty of mention that their conversations were about Deflategate. With the release of the transcripts Goodell has be caught at best cherry picking his quotes from Brady, and at worst flat out lying to support his punishment.
Of course they would be talking about Deflategate, because after Chris Mortensen's erroneous report that 11 of the 12 balls were more than two pounds underinflated, Brady and Jastremski must've been as confused as anyone. Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel brilliantly broke it down: “So the league created fake duress for Brady via false evidence and then found him guilty for reacting to it in an understandable fashion."
That certainly doesn't seem like a fair process, but the bigger problem for the NFL is one they willingly and blatantly did to themselves.
The Wells Report was supposed to be an independent investigation of Deflategate.
In theory, Ted Wells would go off, gather all the facts and then put together an unbiased report that the Commissioner would review before deciding on punishment. If it went like that, it would've been fair to Brady, but the NFL had its fingerprints all over the Wells Report from the get-go, and even went so far as to have the very law firm that put it together being the ones to represent the NFL at Brady's appeal.
When Wells was questioned at the Brady appeal as to how much NFL general counsel Jeff Pash was involved with the process, Wells confirmed he had reviewed drafts but stopped short of anything more, with the NFL claiming attorney-client privilege.
Pash had been dismissive of the Patriots' pleas to correct Mortensen's false report in February, and now we learn that he helped craft the Wells Report, which was expertly framed to paint a picture of the Patriots being guilty.
The NFL paid Wells between $2.5 and $3 million for his investigation. Wells has plenty of experience in this kind of thing, so why would the NFL need its attorney involved to help word it? Shouldn't the facts write themselves? The NFL was foolish to insert Pash in the process, even going so far as to have him named a co-lead investigator at the top of the Wells Report, something that threw even Wells for a loop.
Pash's involvement seems like it should be enough to illustrate that the NFL's process on Deflategate was neither independent nor fair.
Without any knowledge of the Ideal Gas Law, the NFL immediately decided the Patriots were guilty and every step the league took from halftime of the AFC Championship Game to the release of Goodell's decision to uphold Brady's suspension has been to support that initial decision, whether it meant disregarding select testimonies or the importance of timing when the balls were re-measured, or flat out omitting portions of Brady's testimony that didn't fit its narrative.
The implications of this kind of behavior can't be lost on even the most ardent Patriot haters. If the NFL can do this to one of the game's marquee players the league can do it to anyone.
That's why Deflategate might be the last "gate" Roger Goodell ever gets to decide punishment on, and might just be the controversy that seals his fate as Commissioner.