UPDATE, 8:15 AM: “It is hereby ordered that the petition is denied” was not the call that Tom Brady wanted to hear today in his appeal of his four-game NFL suspension over Deflategate – but that is what the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals succinctly said. Facing missing the beginning of the season in the fall and primetime games, the New England Patriots player’s only option now is to go to Supreme Court for a Hail Mary.
The ruling today backs up a 2-1 opinion from late April on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dictate of earlier this year on the accusations against the Super Bowl winning QB that started in the 2015 AFC Championship Game. “We are disappointed with the decision denying a rehearing, as there were clear violations of our collective bargaining agreement by the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell,” said the NFL Players Association after the ruling by the NYC-based court was made public.
PREVIOUSLY, APRIL 25 AM: The cursing that might be audible out in Rockefeller Plaza is probably from NBC Sports execs who just found out that future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension was reinstated by a federal appeals court today. The face of the NFL will miss the first four games of the 2016 season — starting with the opening-week Sunday Night Football matchup on NBC.
While it’s a legal victory for the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell, it throws a pair of broadcast networks for a loss. Along with NBC’s opener, Brady will miss the Week 3 Thursday Night Football game against the Houston Texans on CBS (and simulcast on NFL Network). CBS and NBC sealed a deal in February to split the 2016 Thursday night package, each paying a reported $225 million for five games.
The Peacock nearly faced the same Week 1 fate last season but got a late reprieve. It was nearly a year ago — May 11 — that Brady was sidelined for the first four games of the 2015 season for his role in the scandal involving underinflated footballs in the previous postseason. The then-defending Super Bowl champion Patriots were scheduled for the NFL’s 2015 opening-night game, also on NBC, but suddenly the league’s marquee player wouldn’t be suiting up. But that changed a week before Opening Night, when U.S. District Judge Richard Berman nullified Brady’s suspension, clearing him to play. With Brady under center, the opening-night game went on to draw 27.4 million viewers for NBC — just missing the viewership record since the NFL started doing Thursday openers in 2002.
Hours after Berman’s ruling, the NFL said it would appeal. It did, and today the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated Brady’s four-game ban.
“We hold that the commissioner 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,” the 33-page ruling reads. “Accordingly, we reverse the judgement of the district court and remand with instructions to confirm the award.”
The NFL Players Association theoretically could try to take to case to the full 22-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, but “that’s rare,” ESPN’s NFL insider Bill Polian said this morning. Or the NFLPA could try petitioning the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely that the justices would hear the case of the four-time Super Bowl champion and two-time league MVP. “Most people I talk to in the legal field feel this is kind of the end of the road [for the case],” Polian said.
But even if the legal door is closed, that doesn’t necessarily mean Brady actually will sit out. “I don’t know if the NFL really wants to impose this,” ESPN’s NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt said this morning. “I think the odds are more than 50-50 that they reimpose the suspension … but what they really want here is precedent. They don’t like players and lawyers going to court when they don’t like Roger Goodell’s suspension. So they got that now. .. But maybe, just maybe, they go to Tom Brady and his representatives and the union and say, ‘Can we get back to the compromise discussions we talked about before. They have the leverage in those negotiations, whereas Brady did before.”