NFL: The Patriots Cheated

New England coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000 Thursday and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent's defensive signals.

Commissioner Roger Goodell also ordered the team to give up next year's first-round draft choice if it reaches the playoffs and second- and third-round picks if it doesn't.

"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," Goodell said in a letter to the Patriots.

The videotaping came to light after a camera was confiscated from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella while he was on the New York Jets' sideline during New England's 38-14 win last Sunday at Giants Stadium. Goodell will not change the outcome of the game.

Goodell said he had considered suspending Belichick but didn't "largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension."

New England, strengthened by the addition of Randy Moss and two other first-rate wide receivers as well as linebacker Adalius Thomas, is considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl for the fourth time since the 2001 season. If the Patriots lose their first-rounder next season they still will have a first-round pick, obtained from San Francisco in the deal that brought Moss from Oakland.

NFL rules state "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game" and that all video or coaching purposes must be shot from locations "enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

That was re-emphasized in a memo sent Sept. 6 to NFL head coaches and general managers. In it, Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president of football operations wrote: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."

The NFL statement said Goodell believed Patriots owner Robert Kraft was unaware of Belichick's actions.

But it said the commissioner believed penalties should be imposed on the club because "Coach Belichick not only serves as the head coach but also has substantial control over all aspects of New England's football operations. His actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club."

NFL coaches long have suspected opponents of spying. In the early 1970s, the late George Allen, coach of the Washington Redskins, routinely would send a security man into the woods surrounding the team's practice facility because he suspected there were spies from other teams there.

And coaches like Seattle's Mike Holmgren and Philadelphia's Andy Reid, among others, always cover their mouths when calling plays from the sideline because they fear other teams have lip readers trying to determine their calls.

The action against Belichick is the latest in a series of disciplinary actions taken by Goodell, who took office last Sept. 1, succeeding Paul Tagliabue.

The most notable were the indefinite suspension of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick after he pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting conspiracy and the one-year suspension of Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones after numerous run-ins with police.

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