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Roger Goodell and Tom Brady are scheduled to meet Wednesday for a mediation session in federal court in Manhattan.
Brady should take the opportunity to make the first settlement offer: a zero-game suspension, no fine, full exoneration and a public apology from the commissioner for completely misrepresenting Brady's under oath testimony and then somehow using it to declare Brady untrustworthy.
Goodell won't go for that, of course. That's the point. If the actions of the league office from the start have told us anything, it's that the NFL isn't going to go for any deal, so why pretend otherwise?
The good part of this getting to federal court is that it is no longer about whether or not the footballs were deflated at the AFC championship game and, if they were, whether Brady knew about it.
Everyone can believe whatever it is they choose.
This is now all about how the case has pulled the curtain back on the NFL's disciplinary process. The more light that gets into the crevices of the procedure and the practices used to prop it up, the better.
Even if you suspect Brady is as guilty as sin there is no denying the NFL had a profoundly weak case here.
The proof is that the NFL felt compelled to state Brady said the exact opposite of what he actually said, not correct false media stories, hire a non-independent/independent investigator, ignore overwhelming scientific conclusions and even change the verdict after the verdict was rendered – in May, the NFL claimed it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "generally aware" of the deflation; in the July appeal decision, Goodell significantly upped that and despite a lack of additional evidence suddenly claimed Brady "approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards in support of a scheme."
If this was a fair and strong investigation, then none of that is needed. If Ted Wells did a good job, then he could've stood on his own. Instead you have a case that can be perhaps best defined by bookend media reports, each false and each extremely prejudicial to Brady and the Patriots.
The first came in January via ESPN that 11 of 12 footballs were deflated by more than 2 pounds per square inch, which turned a curiosity into a tidal wave of controversy. The last came in July, via NFL.com, that Brady and the NFLPA sought to have a transcript of his appeals hearing sealed, which was "interpreted by those on the league side as an attempt to keep the destruction of the cellphone from ever becoming public, because Brady's representatives surely knew how dubious that decision would look."
It was like Brady was trying to cover up a cover-up and thus was a no-good, guilty, low-life.
The actual measurements of the footballs proved the "11 of 12 story" to be thoroughly wrong. Meanwhile, thanks to the federal court, a release of the appeals transcript revealed that during the appeal, NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler specifically sought to have the transcript released publicly in an effort at "transparency." The NFL rebuffed his request.
So, actually, Brady wasn't trying to hide his actions.
Even if the Pats are guilty, this should've been treated as more misdemeanor than felony.
Consider, as ProFootballTalk.com pointed out, the penalty for a player who is caught with "stick 'em" on his gloves. This practice would be employed to gain extra grip on the ball, fairly akin to deflating a ball. Under the collective bargaining agreement, a guilty player would be fined $8,681.
That's it, eight grand.
Get caught a second time and it's $17,363.
Because no one ever cared about the inflation levels of footballs, there is no specific punishment for being "generally aware" of a possibly underinflated football.
Thus Goodell was allowed to jump from an $8,681 fine all the way to declaring Brady guilty of "conduct detrimental to the integrity of … the game of professional football" which meant a quarter of the season suspension (plus hitting the Patriots for a million bucks and a first- and fourth-round draft pick).
Really? After eight months and no concrete proof there was no middle ground there?
The longer this continues, the greater the chance more testimony or emails or documents emerge. That's the hope; at least for anyone who realizes the NFL's conduct in this matter is way more interesting than what the Deflator did in the bathroom.
The league certainly won all the early public-relation wars. Brady and the Patriots were put through a meat grinder, in part because they were far too naïve and trusting. They couldn't imagine that pleas to correct false stories wouldn't be answered (Goodell, on Wednesday, somehow blamed Wells for this). They couldn't envision Wells telling Brady he didn't need his cell phone and then Goodell punishing Brady for not giving Wells his cell phone. They couldn't foresee a lot of stuff.
"This was never about what was fair and just," Kraft said. "I was wrong to put my faith in the league."
Fans were fed the most sensational stuff, regardless of truth or context, and, naturally, they believed it. Sorting through what are now approximately 1,000 pages of reports, testimony, documents and scientific exhibits is complicated and consuming.
Here's guessing very few of the talking heads on cable television read all of this stuff. Actually, let's be honest and say not a single one did. Maybe one or two guys tried, unless you really can envision your favorite outraged ex-player staying up late pouring through the footnotes with a highlighter.
So, of course, the simple stuff was going to be seized on and repeated.
Only, eventually, because Brady has kept fighting, the cracks have become impossible to ignore. His appeal was a goldmine. Goodell brazenly misrepresenting testimony? A verdict being rewritten? False, anti-Brady stories still mysteriously finding their way to publication?
If a settlement is reached, if Brady, for the good of the Patriots' season, agrees to a game or two suspension, then this grinds to a conclusion and additional information may never emerge.
So here's hoping Tom Brady does no mediating on Wednesday.
Here's hoping he takes a hard line, takes it to the wall, takes it to federal court and then a civil one via a defamation charge, because no matter where you stand on guilt or innocence, after all these months, we're finally getting to the real stuff.
We're finally getting to the good stuff.