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Tom Brady won't further pursue suspension appeal

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One of the longest and most contentious legal battles in NFL history came to end on Friday when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ended his appeal against a four-game suspension levied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in May of 2015.

Brady made his announcement via his Facebook page:

"I'm very grateful for the overwhelming support I've received from (team owner) Mr. (Robert) Kraft, the Kraft family, coach (Bill) Belichick, my coaches and teammates, the NFLPA, my agents, my loving family and most of all, our fans," Brady wrote. "It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process. I'm going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall."

Brady was suspended by the NFL in May of 2015 after an NFL-commissioned investigation conducted by attorney Ted Wells concluded it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "generally aware" of Patriots attendants deflating footballs prior to the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18, 2015. The violation ended up costing the Patriots a first-round pick in 2016, a fourth-rounder in 2017 and $1 million in fines.

Kraft voiced his continued support of Brady and criticized the NFL's investigation as being "flawed and biased from the start" in a statement released by the Patriots on Friday.

"The penalty imposed by the NFL was unprecedented, unjust and unreasonable, especially given that no empirical or direct evidence of any kind showed Tom did anything to violate League rules prior to, during or after the 2015 AFC Championship Game," Kraft wrote. "What Tom has had to endure throughout this 18-month ordeal has been, in my opinion, as far removed from due process as you could ever expect in this country."

Brady had few legal options remaining after the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied his rehearing petition Wednesday, but he could have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. His legal team also could have requested a stay of the decision.

The NFL Players Association issued a statement following Brady's announcement and kept open the possibility of independently pursuing further action against the NFL in a petition to the Supreme Court.

"After careful consideration and discussion with Tom Brady, the NFLPA will not be seeking a stay of the four-game suspension with the Second Circuit. This decision was made in the interest of certainty and planning for Tom prior to the New England Patriots' season. We will continue to review all of our options and we reserve our rights to petition for cert to the Supreme Court."

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that expectation is the NFLPA will petition the Supreme Court, but they might take the fully allotted 90 days.

After his suspension was initially overturned in September of 2015 by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman, allowing Brady to play the entirety of the 2015 season during which he led the Patriots back to the AFC title game against the Broncos, the ruling was reversed -- and condemned -- in April of 2016 when the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Berman's decision. Citing Goodell's broad disciplinary power in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the second circuit court summed up their decision here:

"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. Accordingly, we reverse the judgement of the district court and remand with instructions to confirm the award."

Five hundred and fourty-four days after the game which sparked all the controversy ended, Brady and the Patriots are finally getting back to business as usual. Backup Jimmy Garoppolo's first start will be a prime-time game against the Cardinals on opening weekend, followed by games against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills at home.

While many expect the Patriots to weather the first four games of the season, Brady was fighting for his legacy. Throughout the legal battle, he did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Last summer, Brady was in intense hearings with the Goodell, which resulted in the NFL upholding the initial four-game suspension. A little more than a month later, Brady was back on the field where he ripped off one of the most impressive four-game stretches in recent memory to start the season (116-of-160 passing, 1,387 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions).

The team will have to find a way to replace that production early on. This will be the first time since 2008 that Brady has missed a start for the Patriots.

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