Tom Brady's destroyed cell phone is smoking gun that crushed the Patriots superstar

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Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
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Tom Brady is too smart for this, or at least he's supposed to be.

It's why even if he were somehow proven innocent on the facts surrounding the inflation level of footballs in January's AFC championship game, he probably deserves a four-game suspension for being such an idiot during the investigation.

Brady knew the NFL was after him for being involved in what the league believed was the deflation of footballs in that playoff game. He knew commissioner Roger Goodell fancied himself as a law and order sheriff, here to punish players for all sorts of misconduct. He knew the NFL wanted his cell phone, or the information it held.

The NFL upheld its four-game suspension of Tom Brady for his role in the deflate-gate scandal. (AP)
The NFL upheld its four-game suspension of Tom Brady for his role in the deflate-gate scandal. (AP)

Knowing all of this, he should have known one thing: don't destroy the phone.

Yet Brady did, according to the NFL, which announced it would uphold the quarterback's four-game suspension on Tuesday.

He gift-wrapped a present for Goodell, who was desperate for an angle to drop the hammer on the New England Patriots star.

"On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cell phone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed," the NFL said in a statement. "He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone. During the four months that the cell phone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cell phone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady."

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Boom. Phone gone. Appeal done. Court of Public Opinion lost. Reputation in tatters.

Brady told Goodell that he, or an assistant acting on his command, regularly destroys cell phones and sim cards when he changes phones. This is, no doubt, in an effort to preserve privacy. It's completely understandable. Brady, a very famous person married to an even more famous person, attempts, as best he can, to live a normal family life. Celebrities are targets to hackers. It makes sense to annihilate old devices.

Except in this case.

Brady had to know better. He had to know that if he wanted to get a new phone and protect his privacy he should have just put the old one in the top drawer until this was all over, or in a safe down at the bank, or hand it over to his lawyer, or do just about anything other than what he did.

It's worse than that though. Brady chose to get a new phone and order the destruction of the old one either March 5 or 6, the 6th being the exact day he met with independent investigator Ted Wells about the case. The timing is beyond suspicious.

Oh, and while Brady may have destroyed that phone immediately, he hadn't done anything to the one he used prior. That phone went out of service on Nov. 6, 2014, yet it was apparently still kicking around and his defense was able to access it.

So does he immediately destroy phones or not?

Brady's legal team knew the trouble he was in and offered to have his cell phone provider give all records from the destroyed phone. It then encouraged the NFL to contact those individuals and request production of any relevant text messages that it retained.

Goodell deemed that "not practical" due to the time and effort required to essentially do Brady's defense for him and instead blasted Brady.

"Rather than simply failing to cooperate Mr. Brady made a deliberate effort to ensure that investigators would never have access to information that he had been asked to produce," the NFL's 20-page ruling said. "Put differently, there was an affirmative effort by Mr. Brady to conceal potentially relevant evidence and to undermine the investigation.

"Mr. Brady's conduct gives rise to an inference that information from his cell phone, if it were available, would further demonstrate his direct knowledge of and involvement with the scheme to tamper with the game balls."

Tom Brady reportedly will take his case to federal court. (AP)
Tom Brady reportedly will take his case to federal court. (AP)

On this, it's tough to argue with Goodell, which is why he seized the point and his beloved moral high ground. Brady was his own worst enemy and looked very much like someone either with something to hide or just dumb as a rock.

So four games it is, Goodell claiming this was akin to performance-enhancing drugs.

There was no obvious reason to destroy the phone. If Brady has an explanation, he apparently didn't give it to Goodell. Simply not handing it over, or allowing any access to it, would have looked better. The NFL is not the FBI. Wells wasn't going to batter down his front door waving a court order to search his home.

But Brady did destroy the phone, which the league found out about on June 18, and that gave Goodell the knockout punch.

The NFL already played to the crowd that loves authority when it originally ruled Brady didn't cooperate enough by disallowing the league to view not just the phone, but even printouts of select conversations. Brady held strong on privacy grounds and he had a point. And since the NFL got access of the phones, emails and other communications from relevant members of the Patriots organization – most notably John Jastremski and Jim McNally – what was there to hide? There was no incriminating communication from Brady, so did he happen to write a confessional to someone outside the organization that he feared the NFL might discover? Even if he did, the NFL never would have been able to access that in general questioning, as the league was asking for specific communication not complete access to everything on his phone.

So what was the point?

That's why Brady is cooked. His legal team will sue on procedural grounds and "law of shop" arguments. The NFL is seeking legal confirmation. More lawyers will be involved and perhaps Brady can win an injunction so he can start the season in uniform.

In terms of his reputation though, his best hope is that the league's new policy of measuring footballs both pregame and postgame delivers data that says the Patriots were never out of normal variance.

Even then though …

The rest of Goodell's ruling is mostly a rehash of already debatable evidence, including the science surrounding Ideal Gas Law. Goodell rejected almost all opinions other than Princeton professor Daniel Marlow, who found Wells' report strong. Goodell, like Wells, also harped on the amount of communication between Brady and Jastremski after the scandal broke, and here was another point where Brady made himself look guilty, or at least failed to offer an innocent explanation.

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It would be perfectly understandable if Brady said he contacted and met with Jastremski after the story of the deflated footballs broke because he was seeking an explanation of what happened and whether anyone actually did anything. With his reputation on the line, why wouldn't he want to ask questions and find out himself? That's what an innocent person would do.

Instead, Brady said he couldn't recall what they discussed but that is was probably about preparing for the upcoming Super Bowl. This was a monster opportunity lost, a brutal self-inflicted mistake.

Once Goodell could uphold the ruling on the basis of incriminating acts that work perfect in the media, all of the other facts in the case that Brady and the Patriots want to argue fall into the background.

This wasn't a court of law. Brady knew that. This was hand-to-hand public relations combat and Tom Brady showed up for a fistfight and then promptly handed Roger Goodell a howitzer.