BOSTON -- Call it a well-deserved level of skepticism, call it leftover trauma from past experiences, call it whatever you'd like. But the simple fact is that it's difficult -- if not impossible -- to take the NFL at its word. Ever. About anything.
So when the league released its findings on Brian Flores' allegations of the Dolphins tampering and tanking (allegations which the NFL initially dismissed as being "without merit," by the way, in case you're keeping track of dishonesty emanating from 345 Park Avenue), you'll have to forgive me for wanting a little bit more in terms of actual details.
Because it's quite odd, really, for an almost unbelievable level of punishment to be handed down for ... tampering. Tampering is technically illegal by the letter of the NFL law ... in the same way that driving 68 mph on the highway is a violation of the rules of the road. When it happens, there's generally a slap on the wrist, a fine or the loss of a mid-round draft pick, perhaps, and life moves on. When the player who is the subject of the tampering doesn't even end up signing with the tampering team, it's even less of an offense.
That's why you can't help but raise an eyebrow at, well, everything about this NFL punishment.
Despite the conclusion reached by Stephen Ross in his public statement, the NFL didn't actually discredit Flores' claims that the owner offered him $100,000 to intentionally lose football games. The NFL merely concluded that Flores and the players ignored any pressure from above that may have existed and fought to win games in the 2019 season. In fact, the NFL kinda-sorta confirmed that a message along the lines of "I'll give you money if you lose" juuuuuust might have in fact been uttered by Ross ... albeit in a joking tone!
"One such comment is a claimed offer by Mr. Ross to pay Coach Flores $100,000 to lose games, as to which there are differing recollections about the wording, timing, and context," the NFL statement read. "However phrased, such a comment was not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club."
There are "differing recollections."
Regardless ... it was "not intended" to be "a serious offer."
So, the NFL is saying that even if Ross did make this offer ... he was just joshing. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here.
It was just a joke.
Does that past the sniff test for you?
That's why it would have been nice to see some details here. The NFL is capable of releasing details -- in the form of 200-plus pages of evidence and data and emails and texts -- when it wants. It's just as capable of not releasing details when doing so would work to put the league in a negative light. Such is the prerogative of any company.
But in the NFL, where billions of dollars are floating around and where legalized gambling demands that the actual integrity of the game be maintained at all times, there will come a day when sweeping things under the rug won't be quite so easy. That day is apparently not today ... but make no mistake: Until the league decides to publish any and all communications regarding potential tanking, it's impossible to trust their word on what happened. And it's equally difficult to believe that the severe punishment -- stripping a first-round pick and dinging the ego of a team owner -- was solely due to ... tampering.
Long story short: Let's see all of the texts and emails, Roger. How about it? We'll all be over here holding our collective breath. Please and thank you.
That's not the only thought kicking around a day after the big news.
--It's been interesting to see Patriots fans really turn on Tom Brady in the wake of the news. Seeing Patriots fans argue on Twitter that Tom Brady should be punished by the NFL felt like traversing into the Upside Down. People who for years based their identity on defending Brady, using No. 12 Twitter avatars, and hating Roger Goodell with all their might are now tweeting "WHY ISN'T THE NFL PUNISHING BRADY?!?!?!?!"
It's a twist that is stranger than fiction. We are apparently living in the Twilight Zone.
Obviously, Patriots fans don't like hearing that their quarterback was flirting with other teams before, during and after the 2019 season. Understandably so.
I'm not here to defend Tom Brady. He's an adult. Aat that. His PR teams have PR teams. They'll handle that just fine.
I'll just say this, to anyone saying "THIS PROVES THAT TOM BRADY HAD ONE FOOT OUT THE DOOR FOR THE ENTIRE 2019 SEASON."
Well ... yeah.
For sure. One-hundred percent. He absolutely had one foot out the door during the 2019 season.
But it wasn't because of the Dolphins.
It was because the Patriots refused to sign him beyond the 2019 season.
You might remember Tom Brady speaking through the media to legitimately beg the Patriots for a new deal that summer. He had stated for-ev-er that he wanted to at least play to age 45, and the then-42-year-old wanted a multi-year commitment from the team. It never came. Instead of a deal that would have kept Brady in New England, the Patriots gave him a restructured one-year deal that would automatically void at the end of the league year -- a deal which prevented the Patriots from placing the franchise tag on him, too.
As soon as that deal was offered and accepted, Tom Brady's time in New England had an exact expiration date. Once the ink dried in August, Brady knew he'd be on a new team the following year.
Like an old episode of "24," the clock was ticking.
Did that seep into his thoughts and emotions that season? Uhh ... yeah. After 20 years of work and unprecedented success, being told "your services are no longer required here" had to have been a bit devastating for Brady, who once told Chris Berman that he naturally has "a very fragile confidence."
That other teams started to contact Brady because they knew he'd become a free agent the following March is not Brady's fault. In fact, it's the Patriots' fault for announcing to the world by way of an automatically voiding contract that the greatest quarterback of all time would soon be on the market.
Brady has already gotten into a lot of trouble for having a phone before. There's no need to punish him for that again.
--It would also be best for Patriots fans to not rewrite the history of the 2019 season. The Patriots didn't win a playoff game that year because their receiving corps was negligently weak. Julian Edelman -- on the last legs of his own career -- accounted for more than 45 percent of the receptions among wide receivers that year and more than 43 percent of their receiving yards. N'Keal Harry was a bust to end all busts. The Antonio Brown addition blew up in their faces. Mohamed Sanu was a bad pickup. The replacement plan for Rob Gronkowski was to bring Ben Watson out of retirement and hope for the best with Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. David Andrews missed the whole season. Isaiah Wynn wasn't a proper replacement for Trent Brown.
The Patriots' offense was not good -- certainly not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl. Brady (and everybody watching it on a weekly basis) knew that to be true throughout the year.
--We all are probably underplaying the tampering aspect with regard to Brady the Buccaneer -- tampering that happened this calendar year. While everyone had varying opinions on theas a minority owner/potential executive/maybe-just-maybe a quarterback after coming out of retirement, the NFL all but confirmed that all of that story was true.
The NFL said that this particular instance of tampering "focused on Mr. Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins. Both Messrs. Ross and [Bruce] Beal were active participants in these discussions."
Fairly bold! (Nice use of "Messrs." though.)
Brian Flores obviously didn't levy those accusations in his lawsuit, as he would not have been aware of them. So it's interesting to ponder how, when and why the NFL investigated this matter. And it's fascinating to see the NFL volunteer that information to the world.
--Back to Patriots fans who are mad at Brady for flirting with the Dolphins: Wrap your heads around the fact that Brady wants an ownership stake in the Dolphins. If I were the owner of the Patriots (and granted, I'm a few billion dollars short of being eligible for that role at this precise moment in time), I would. Brady left New England as a player, but I'd be trying with all of my might to try to secure his presence in the organization for the remainder of his life. I'd already have a statue planned. A MASSIVE statue. Plus an ownership stake. Plus a job. I'd name the freaking stadium after him if he wanted. No player will ever be more important to any team than Tom Brady was to the Patriots. And they're going to let him just go ... own a part of the Dolphins?
Business is business. But sports are sports. Feels wrong.
Perhaps this whole snafu gives the Patriots some equal footing in that regard, if they choose to go that route in the future.
(They probably should, based on how the post-Brady era has looked thus far. Getting Brady back in the fold would be best for business.)
--If I were to take a stab at why this tampering rose to levels of "unprecedented scope and severity," I'd venture to guess it had more to do with the Dolphins offering Brady an ownership stake and in trying to recruit Sean Payton as head coach than it did with the 2019 tampering. Player tampering is quite common. If the Dolphins were just found to have talked with Brady about potentially signing after the 2019 season, the league would have likely forced Miami to swap places in the fourth round of the draft with New England or something like that. Maybe fine the GM a few bucks. Nothing major.
It's that other stuff that really rises to special levels.
That is, though, just a guess. As there's no report. And there will be no report. Just the way the league likes it.
--That brings us to the question being asked in New England: Shouldn't the Patriots receive some compensation from Miami for the tampering?
I tackled that one on Twitter:
On a real note ... the answer is probably not.
I immediately thought back to the case of the Chiefs tampering with Jeremy Maclin in 2015. Andy Reid -- Maclin's former head coach -- and the Chiefs got too specific in their talks with Maclin during the legal tampering period, which didn't seem like an egregious violation. Yet for whatever reason, the, stripping picks and issuing fines to Reid and GM John Dorsey. But the Eagles -- Maclin's former team -- got nothing.
When the Patriots and Jets filed dueling tampering chargers regarding Darrelle Revis, the Jets ended up being ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. They didn't give up any draft picks.
So given that history, given that Brady didn't actually end up signing with the Dolphins, given that Brady's 2019 contract was set up so that he would most certainly enter free agency, and given what I believe to be excellent speculation that the 2022 tampering with Brady and Payton was a much worse offense, it makes sense that the Patriots weren't given anything from the NFL in this case.
Perhaps the Bucs should be a little steamed, though.
--Lastly, big credit is due to Brian Flores. Filing that lawsuit is something that few men would follow through with. Going up against the NFL is always going to be a losing battle. The league is a behemoth. There is no winning when you are fighting the NFL.
Flores likely knew that when he made his move. But he smartly brought receipts, and he went public with it, thus forcing the NFL's hand to acknowledge the case.
The NFL clearly did not have any intention to do that when Flores first filed the lawsuit. The immediate response from the NFL was, "We will defend against these claims, which are without merit." That the NFL came to such a conclusion after doing zero seconds of investigating was curious, but for some reason -- public pressure, the ongoing legal aspect, who knows -- the league decided to actually look into the matter.
None of that happens without Brian Flores, who decided to risk his own career to expose some behind-the-scenes truth from Miami. Born and raised in Brooklyn and having worked for 15 years under Bill Belichick, Brian Flores is not a person who messes around -- so much so that the NFL had to acknowledge him here.
He's taken a ton of heat from various corners of the football world, but he did what he felt was right. So far, it's already been proven to have been a worthwhile decision on his part.
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