The NFL must concede on "admission of guilt" or risk having the entire punishment thrown out.
The lawyers from the NFL and NFLPA were back in Judge Richard Berman's court on Wednesday and the judge continued to hammer the NFL on a number of fronts. At last week's hearing, Judge Berman took aim at the NFL's lack of hard evidence against Tom Brady in the Deflategate scandal, a curious move considering Berman is supposed to be ruling on the fairness of the process, not whether or not Brady actually did have a role in deflating footballs.
But this time, Berman was more concerned with the NFL's process in deciding punishment, the area under scrutiny if he's to dismiss Brady's suspension. The two most interesting points Berman made:
Berman: "I don't understand the thinking to not allow Mr. Pash as a witness. Who else but Pash had the opportunity to edit the Wells Report?— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 19, 2015
Berman: "I believe some arbitration awards have been vacated" because a witness was not allowed to be called without explanation.— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 19, 2015
Make no mistake, the Berman would prefer the sides settle without him having to make a ruling that will inevitably mean Deflategate drags on into next year with appeals. So while his hard questioning of the NFL poked obvious holes in its process, it was once again done with the purpose of pushing settlement.
Brady's camp has acknowledged they're willing to accept some form of punishment, but what he won't do is admit guilt.
Adam Schefter of ESPN even went so far to report that Brady would accept a reduced suspension without admitting guilt, though this report has now been disputed. Still, this goes on top of last week's admission by Brady's lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, that Brady's cooperation "could've been handled differently," acknowledging some gray area for settlement talks as far as Brady's cooperation with the investigation goes.
But the NFL seems to be on a hard line for Brady to accept guilt as part of any settlement and that is why Berman made it clear that there's enough evidence for him to vacate the "award."
The ball is once again in the NFL's court, but if it didn't get the message last week it certainly should've gotten it today. Brady has publicly acknowledged he's willing to make concessions, but if the NFL refuses to negotiate without an admission of guilt, Berman will have no choice to make a ruling, and it's very possible the NFL won't like that ruling.
The sides, including Brady and Commissioner Goodell, will be back in court on Aug. 31 for another settlement hearing, and if that final session does not produce results, Berman will "try" to make a ruling by Sept. 4 to allow Brady and the Patriots enough time to prepare for their season opener with or without him.
Berman made no promises as to issuing a ruling by that date, adding just a little more pressure to the settlement talks.
There seems to be little doubt now that Deflategate will almost certainly bleed into the regular season unless the NFL realizes it has to concede some points if it doesn't want to be litigating this entire farce for the foreseeable future.