When the never-ending story that is Deflategate first erupted 15 months ago, the general consensus among NFL teams seemed to be that the league should drop the hammer on the New England Patriots once and for all. My, how things have changed.
Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report spoke to several NFL executives when the Patriots were stripped of two draft picks for allegedly letting air out of game balls, and he described the reaction of most of them as “massive joy.” Freeman spoke to many of those same sources again recently and learned that most of them have completely changed their stances.
“I hate the Patriots. I despise them,” one NFC team executive told Freeman. “But they really should get those picks back.”
This isn’t just about teams thinking the Patriots were punished too harshly for a minor violation, either. Many executives feel that Tom Brady was not aware of equipment managers allegedly deflating balls. In fact, Freeman reports that a “significant portion of the league” doesn’t even believe the Patriots cheated during the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
As Freeman notes, many executives now feel empathetic toward the Patriots and worry that a similar witch hunt could be carried out against them.
It seems unbelievable that any team would want the hated Patriots to have their draft picks returned. It’s like Tokyo rooting for Godzilla.
The reason, though, is a selfish one. Players, coaches and executives have come to view the Patriots’ situation as a referendum on commissioner power. Many of the sources I spoke to used the same word: “railroaded.” As in, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell railroaded the Patriots. As in, the commissioner used his power unfairly and arbitrarily.
They think, in effect, that what happened to the Patriots could happen to any of them.
One general manager said the Deflategate debacle is a reminder that Roger Goodell has too much power.
“The Patriots aren’t victims, but they are a cautionary tale for the rest of the league,” the exec said. “They’re a reminder the commissioner can do whatever he wants, and there isn’t a damn thing any team can do about it.”
The Patriots aren’t getting their draft picks (a first-rounder and fourth-rounder) back. Goodell made that clear after Robert Kraft wrote him a letter asking the commissioner to reconsider the harsh penalty.
With Brady’s four-game suspension having been reinstated on Monday, it has become clear that the air pressure inside a football is basically an afterthought at this point. Brady is said to be considering all legal options to continue fighting, and it sounds like NFL teams want him to — even the ones that hate him. The case now represents nothing more than a classic labor dispute.
As for whether the Patriots actually cheated or not, we have already gone over that in great detail. Even if they did, we can all agree that Deflategate is well beyond the point of having gotten out of control.