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It could be turning on Kraft, not his general incompetence, that ultimately end's Goodell's tenure as NFL commisioner

Logic and reason have never meant much to Roger Goodell during his tumultuous tenure as NFL commissioner, so yesterday's absurdly harsh punishment to Tom Brady and the Patriots for "deflategate" wasn't entirely unexpected. Goodell has proven time and time again that he is far more influenced by public opinion than relevant facts, especially not relevant facts that contradict his pre-determined agendas. The public wanted blood, and they got it as the NFL dropped an unprecedented punishment on the Pats; a million dollar fine, loss of future 1st and 4th round draft picks and a four game suspension for Tom Brady.

So, in the NFL's eye, being likely to have "general knowledge" of an accused offense with no concrete proof behind it is worthy of a four game suspension. For those of you keeping score at home, that makes it an equal offense to PED usage and worse than punching out your fiancee in a casino elevator, but better than punching out your fiancee in a casino elevator if security footage of said assault hits the internet.

Brady's agent, Don Yee, confirmed the obvious last night that Brady would appeal the unprecedented suspension, an appeal which should result in a reduced sentence for Brady. The NFL has essentially used Brady's refusal to submit his personal cell phone and emails to their investigators as a tacit admission of guilt and grounds for punishment. You see, these weren't just any investigators, but investigators with an impeccable thirst for justice, impervious to bias despite getting paid by the league itself because, dammit, Roger Goodell said so. While the league will likely cling to Brady's refusal to relinquish his legal rights to basic privacy as justification for some sort of suspension, the NFLPA clearly has strong incentive to prevent this from becoming an established and accepted threshold for future player discipline. Throw in the league's poor recent history in upholding appealed suspensions, and it will be surprising Brady is sidelined for more than two weeks at the most.

Keep in mind, any suspension of Brady at all remains a punishment drastically excessive for the specific crime that he allegedly knew about possibly happening. Consider the previously established threshold for offenses involving doctoring footballs. It was just this past November when the Vikings and Panthers were both caught red handed using sideline heaters to soften the balls during a chilly outdoors game, almost certainly for improved grip. The incident invoked a warning and nothing more from the league. The Chargers were accused of applying towels covered in some sort of grip-aiding adhesive to the balls back in 2012, and like the Patriots hid the evidence instead of handing it over. The league in that case cleared the team of violating any rules, but fined them a mere $200,000 for withholding the sullied towels.

This jarring lack of consistency makes it clear the Patriots biggest crime in the NFL's eyes wasn't letting .3 PSI of air pressure out of footballs. It was their refusal to bend over backwards to the league's every whim during a witch-hunt of an investigation. Brady got one game at most for being involved with a situation that made the league look bad, and three more for refusing to properly respect Goodell's authoritah.

Bill Cowher was amongst those who viewed Spygate as "no big deal"
This is nothing new for the Patriots. The league also invoked the Patriots history, namely "Spygate", as further justification for issuing such a harsh punishment. As informed, reasonable football fans know, the actual violation from Spygate had nothing to do with content of their filming, but the location of the camera man. The same exact footage could be captured using zoom from any league-approved location with no violation whatsoever. However, the Patriots defied the league-wide memo concerning the rule change and kept their camera-man where he'd always been on the sideline. Once a violation was proven, Goodell went scorched earth on the Patriots and stripped them of a first round pick while fining Belichick $500,000, not for the crime of videotaping signals being publicly issued in front of 50,000 fans and many more TV eyes, but for doing so from an unapproved location. Assigning that kind of penalty sent a clear message: No disrespect to Goodell's authoritah will go unpunished, no manner how trivial the actual original offense.

For those with eyebrows raised at my categorizing the offense as minor, consider this. The league was alerted to possible violations regarding the balls courtesy of Ryan Grigson's email the day prior to the AFC Championship. Despite this, referee Walt Anderson went through the pregame inspection of the balls without even recording the all-important PSI levels of said balls, and allowed the balls to go in play in a conference championship despite strangely losing track of them for 10 suspicious minutes during the pregame routine. Either Anderson is completely incompetent (impossible according to the NFL) or he was operating under a status-quo presumption that no one really cared about the footballs' air pressure. Either way, allowing those balls to go into play in the AFC Championship games eliminates all but two possible scenarios. Either the NFL didn't believe football air pressure was an offense significant enough to alter the competitive balance of a game, or their desire to catch the Patriots red-handed ran hot enough to knowingly allow the (gasp!) integrity of the game to be assaulted, in a playoff game no less, all in the name of catching them in the act.

Take your pick, but either scenario strongly suggests a desire for the league to catch and embarass the Patriots. If it's the first scenario, there's no way to justify such a harsh punishment without twisting yourself into a kamasutra-esque logical pretzel. If it's the second, the bias against the Patriots becomes shockingly apparent and provides a clear motive for the unprofessional and constant barrage of media leaks from "league sources" throughout the first two weeks following "Deflategate", the intentionally vague verbiage littered throughout the Wells report designed to cover the NFL's legal tracks and cast further shade on the Patriots, the mere existance of 243 page investigative report into a rule violation that never warranted more than a half-assed warning from the league until the Patriots became involved, and so much more.

Sadly, the lack of logic or precedence for Goodell's ruling is nothing new to football fans. Brady and the Patriots merely join a long-line of players and teams who have received laughably inconsistent punishments thanks to Goodell's omnipotent will and reactionary approach to PR. They are hardly the first, nor the last example of Goodell's crooked incompetence.

However, the aggressive nature of the league's all-in assault on the Patriots was at least somewhat surprising due to Goodell's relationship with Kraft. Kraft was once a vital figure in Goodell's rise to the commissioner's office, and he had done nothing but support Goodell previously, despite multiple opportunities to turn on him. Goodell burned him with his heavy-handed Spygate ruling, but Kraft managed to move on and continued to stand behind his commissioner. He championed Goodell throughout the 2011 lockout, a time when he left his dying wife Myra's bedside at times to help the two sides work out a deal. A deal which, by the way, resulted in Goodell's salary going from $11 million (pre-lockout) to the approximately $44 million he makes annually now. Even when Goodell's reputation came under heavy and justified scrutiny following his unfathomable mishandling of the Ray Rice case, it was Kraft who stepped up to bat and stuck his neck out for the commissioner.

Said Kraft in a public, September 9th interview:

The way he has handled this situation himself, coming out with the mea culpa in his statement a couple weeks ago, or 10 days ago, and setting a very clear policy of how we conduct ourselves in the NFL, I thought was excellent. Anyone who is second guessing that doesn't know him.

Sentiments like those expressed by Sherman likely influenced Goodell's ruling
In fact, Kraft's relationship with Goodell was so tight that it led to suspicion of the Patriots getting favorable treatment from the league office, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Take the pre-Super Bowl comments of Richard Sherman, who noted the widely circulated photograph of Goodell with the Kraft's at a party the night prior to the Patriots AFC Divisional round game while stating his suspicion that the Patriots would go unpunished due to Kraft's relationship with the league office. Right or wrong, public perception like that certainly influenced the Commissioner's decision to hit the Patriots with all he had in response to Deflategate.

Goodell had Kraft's seemingly unconditional support, yet his league office still pounced like a pack of hyenas when the opportunity dropped in their lap to catch the Patriots doing something. It's already been reported that Kraft has viewed the investigation as "an act of disloyalty", with a source connected of Kraft saying the following on Kraft's mindset:

"I really don't see how Robert is going to get by this with Roger. Robert was furious with the leaks and the investigation in the first place, but he figured they'd be exonerated. Now he's out of his mind with anger."

In other words, Kraft's statement yesterday in support of Brady was merely the tip of the iceberg in what's quickly setting up to become a war between the Patriots and the league office. Kraft hinted at such in said statement, noting that "it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league". Kraft's telling usage of the past tense and assessment that Brady's punishment "far exceeded any reasonable expectation" makes it clear that the Patriots won't take this lying down. Goodell has handed out overtly strong punishments before, but he's never had a team push back once the hammer was brought down. It certainly appears that's about to change.

While the current focus will remain on the battle over the extravagant punishment, the bigger fight could become over Goodell's standing as commissioner. Kraft's influence and power amongst the league's owners is well-known, and they remain the only entity with the power to remove Goodell from office. The owners have already proven that they will stand behind Goodell despite the commissioner's blatant ineptitude as long as the money keeps printing itself, their power is maintained, and their egos are properly stroked. However, going after the Patriots despite Kraft's outward loyalty likely sends a powerful message to the other 31 ownership groups (one that will surely be reiterated to them by Kraft): it doesn't matter how much you back this commissioner, because he'll turn on you in a second if he finds it beneficial to him.

Who knows? It's entirely popular that Kraft's anger will ultimately fall on ears already deafened by years of losing to his Patriots and believing that his Patriots have operated under a different threshold for discipline (a theory inconceivable when combined with actual history and factual events, but one that exists nonetheless). However, the only thing more powerful than loyalty within the tight-nit cronyism that undeniably exists amongst the league's owners is security, and no owner can honestly be comfortable about allowing the standard Goodell has established in his handling of the Patriots franchise over "Deflategate". If Kraft and his team can be targeted that blatantly, anyone can, and that's bound to be a more than uncomfortable thought for every last one of the owners.

We can only hope. If the end result of all of this eventually becomes Goodell's removal from the commissioner's office, at least some good will have come out of the league's most recent, self-created shit-storm.

Ned Brady 5/12/2015 09:11:00 AM Edit
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