New England Patriots  


Relevant concerns in Patriots' rebuttal eclipsed by faulty logic


Once you get past the eye roll-inducing details (like that "The Deflator" was merely a reference to one man's struggle with the scale) and the contortions of logic (if Jim McNally and John Jastremski did nothing wrong, why have they been suspended indefinitely?), the New England Patriots' exhaustive response to the Wells Report, posted Thursday at, is a rather remarkable and important document simply because of its existence.

NFL suspends Tom Brady

NFL suspends Tom Brady four games


It is the rare challenge directly to the NFL by one of its own. The Patriots' 20,000-word response does raise intriguing points -- particularly about elements of the Wells Report that related to the measurements of game ball pressure -- but mostly it is a startling public relations salvo, the kind that the NFL is used to taking from the players' union but not from one of the people who sits on the same side of the table against the union. The rebuttal contends league officials leaked inaccurate air pressure readings to tilt the first wave of narratives about the investigation. The tone, alone, is telling, because it is almost entirely dismissive of the validity of an NFL-sanctioned investigation and pointedly calling into question its findings.

"The conclusions of the Wells Report are, at best, incomplete, incorrect and lack context," the rebuttal begins.

"Inconsistencies in logic and evidence are ignored," it continues.

The Patriots' rebuttal came just one week -- it feels much longer, doesn't it? -- after the Wells Report was released. The report was followed by a somewhat conciliatory statement from Pats owner Robert Kraft that essentially said he didn't agree with any of its findings, but would not fight whatever discipline followed because the Patriots "understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league." The message there: Kraft had decided the Patriots would quietly take their medicine for the good of the league.

The discipline followed on Monday evening and nothing has been the same since, certainly not the now frozen-solid relationship between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Kraft and, as of Thursday, not even the unspoken agreement about how owners and the league office relate to one another -- which is to say that the discreet closed-door conversations that usually provide the bedrock of how business is done have gone out the window in this case. That the breakdown of the normal order of things has been forced by arguably the league's most powerful owner makes this especially compelling theater, particularly at next week's NFL Spring League Meeting, where body language experts should be deployed.

But what the Patriots' blasts say about the future is harder to determine. The Patriots have the option of appealing their discipline by next week but as far as anyone can recall at the NFL, that would be an unprecedented step for an owner. Owners, who are part of a 32-team collective, simply do not so completely defy the league that has to wrangle all 32 as if corralling puppies. Al Davis, famously, did it by taking the league to court over Los Angeles, but it made him a virtual outcast for the rest of his life. Jerry Jones, whose Cowboys were docked millions in salary cap space by the NFL for front-loading contracts in the uncapped 2010 season, filed a grievance against the league in 2012 to fight the penalty. However, after a special master dismissed the grievance, Jones accepted the ruling without a public outburst. On Tuesday, tellingly, he was the first owner since the Patriots' discipline was announced to publicly throw his support behind Goodell and praise his fairness, despite Jones' close relationship with Kraft.

For more than a decade, Kraft has been justifiably proud of his franchise's stature and successes. But his obvious anger and frustration have opened the door to a previously unthinkable scenario: that the man who has been so intimately involved in so many of the league's biggest and most lucrative moments -- from negotiating television deals and collective bargaining agreements to his more recent role as the one who will broker a deal for a team to move to Los Angeles -- would go to battle against all the others who have shared in the wealth.

Nobody doubts the sincerity of Kraft's ire, given how important his team's reputation is to him. But it is still difficult to envision him making the fight official if for no other reason than civil wars don't usually happen during periods of great prosperity. Joe Banner, a former Philadelphia Eagles executive, noted on Twitter on Thursday afternoon that the Patriots might not have laid out their arguments against the Wells Report in such detail if they were planning an appeal at which those arguments would be so crucial.

Perhaps, then, this is the Patriots' way of aggressively defending their honor and that of Tom Brady in the court of public opinion if not in an actual court of law. Defiance, after all, has been a hallmark of the Patriots' approach since the early days of the investigation and, given that the penalties doled out were impacted significantly by their failure to completely cooperate with Wells' investigation, it has not served them particularly well. Thursday's tome is the latest example. The relevant questions raised were overshadowed by the insults to your intelligence, and that's what will linger in most minds.

We knew the Patriots, just like the team they field, would not go quietly, and Brady filed an appeal of his suspension on Thursday, too. But there is still no indication if the Patriots will make the fight official, if the theater of the absurd this affair has stepped into will give way to a more serious setting. Or maybe the 20,000 words from the Patriots' attorney -- the significant and the silly -- will be among the final ones lobbed in this increasingly farcical episode. We should be so lucky.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.



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