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The New England Patriots are in an awkward spot. And Tom Brady put them there.
For months, both publicly and privately, the Patriots have been adamantly backing their iconic quarterback. Whether it was arguing the science of gas or the dynamics of ball inflation or the integrity of the man, the message was on point: Brady was being unfairly bludgeoned by the NFL's top office.
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Then came Tuesday's allegation from commissioner Roger Goodell – that Brady ordered the destruction of a cell phone that contained information sought in the deflate-gate probe, and did it right before meeting with investigators. To at least some of the Patriots who had been vehemently defending Brady in private, this was news. And when those same people corresponded with Yahoo Sports on Tuesday morning – after an ESPN report of the alleged phone destruction – they still hadn't heard anything about it. There was doubt and disbelief. And in the end, they were as taken by surprise, much like everyone else who believed Brady couldn't possibly be that foolish.
So now what?
On the eve of training camp starting, all of this puts the Patriots in an uncomfortable place. Franchise leaders have been defending Brady, saying there isn't any evidence. Now they have to defend him while knowing he allegedly destroyed his phone … which in most quarters looks an awful lot like someone trying to make sure there wasn't any evidence.
Of course, Brady's most ardent defenders will insist this proves nothing. The Patriots on Tuesday issued a strong statement condemning Roger Goodell's decision to uphold the suspension, saying, "We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. ... [It] is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
But think of it in drug-testing terms. This is akin to the NFL asking for a urine sample, only to find out that a player has pounded gallons of water through his system and destroyed the validity of any test. When that happens, you don't hear a lot of NFL teams arguing the pitfalls of diluted tests. Why? Largely because destroying a test typically points to guilt. So does destroying a phone, whether you're guilty or not.
So here the Patriots are. They're still going to defend Brady to the hilt, but now have to do it knowing he allegedly destroyed a cell phone and didn't bother to tell anyone who had been shouting his innocence from the mountaintops. Oh, and the Patriots will get dragged along with this court thing, too. Which means the franchise will have a storm cloud hanging over it indefinitely. And who knows what other employees will be forced to talk about the internal workings of the Patriots – under oath, no less. How excited do you think team owner Robert Kraft is for another Patriots court case?
And let's not forget, at some point coach Bill Belichick is going to prepare for the worst-case scenario – a four-game suspension. But with Brady reportedly seeking an injunction to let him play while his case is resolved in the courts, Belichick has no idea when he'll need backup Jimmy Garoppolo to take the reins. Should Garoppolo get the lion's share of starting snaps throughout the preseason? What happens if the case gets resolved in December or January, when losing Brady would be potentially crippling?
The Patriots open their training camp in a matter of hours. This is the last thing Belichick and anyone else wants to be talking about. But they will endure the distraction anyway.
Tom Brady and his poorest decision to date has put them in this spot. And there's no getting out of it now.