Your move, Tom Brady.
The legal battle over the New England Patriots quarterback’s four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate controversy took another turn Monday when the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by 2-to-1 in favor of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial penalty.
Brady won an appeal before the 2015 season when Judge Richard Berman threw out the suspension in federal trial court, but the league appealed that decision.
The panel of judges stated that the Goodell “properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness.”
Fair or not, Brady now has to decide whether or not it’s prudent to take this case any further, where he could seek a full panel review of the court or even to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To this point in the process, he’s shown the willingness to fight this battle to the brink.
In the larger sense, the ruling handed down is a huge defeat to the NFL Players’ Association moving forward. In essence, the decision only strengthens Goodell’s power in the current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2020.
"The Commissioner was authorized to impose discipline for, among other things, ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence, in the game of professional football,’” wrote Judge Barrington D. Parker. “In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline. Although this tripartite regime may appear somewhat unorthodox, it is the regime bargained for and agreed upon by the parties, which we can only presume they determined was mutually satisfactory.
"Our review of the record yields the firm conclusion that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player."
In other words, when it comes to disciplinary actions in the NFL, Goodell’s overriding power was agreed to in the current CBA, so his “broad discretion,” as Parker put it, is what the players will have to deal with from now on.
Without question, the NFLPA will therefore want Brady to pursue an appeal, but whether or not the legendary signal-caller actually wants to extend this any further is up for debate. This saga is now into its 16th month, and maybe Brady feels like the best thing now is to cut his losses and move on.
If he does, the four games backup Jimmy Garoppolo will likely start are a road trip to the Arizona Cardinals and home games with the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills. It’s a manageable slate, and perhaps Brady can live with sitting it out.
Perhaps, but if we’ve learned anything from how this has played out to this point, the safer bet is this is long from over.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.