Some NFL executives want to see the Patriots tape for themselves

Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist

With the distrust of both the New England Patriots and the NFL running deep in some league circles, several team executives told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday they would like to see the tape of the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline generated by a Patriots-employed video crew last Sunday.

That interest — if it is ultimately accompanied by pressure from other team owners — could create an interesting crossroads in the league’s investigation for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is heading into a one-day league meeting on Wednesday in Dallas. Five high-level executives from different teams told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday they would like to see what’s on the tape that was produced by a subcontracted video crew for New England during a game between the Cleveland Browns and Bengals on Sunday. Of the five executives, two said they didn’t think the tape needed to be made public for NFL fans, while the remaining three indicated transparency would likely be helpful for closure.

“If there’s nothing there, then there’s no reason to hide anything,” one executive said. “It’s common sense.”

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes questions from reporters about wide receiver Antonio Brown during a media availability before NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has distanced himself and the football operation of his organization from a taping incident that the league is investigating. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A second executive offered the counter opinion that regardless of what is on the tape, people are likely to see what they want to see in the footage, whether it’s exoneration or guilt.

In a statement, the Patriots said a subcontracted video crew working for the team’s in-house media was shooting feature footage on a scout when it innocently and unknowingly crossed a line by taping the Bengals’ sideline from the press box without Cincinnati’s knowledge. The incident was observed by a Bengals employee, who ultimately alerted a media-relations staffer and got team security involved. The NFL is now investigating and the Patriots have continued to distance themselves from any part of the action, with head coach Bill Belichick telling media that he was completely unaware of anything involving the team’s in-house media feature until alerted to the problem on Monday.

“I have no involvement in this and no knowledge of it, and so I really don’t have any idea what exactly is going on,” Belichick said. “I can tell you that we’ve never — as a coaching staff and me personally — have never viewed any video footage at all of anything that those production people have done, other than what’s shown on public television or something like that. But we don’t have anything to do with what they do, so I really don’t have much knowledge of the situation at all.”

Despite the denials, New England’s past issues have naturally led to some disbelief in other corners — largely because of the infamous Spygate scandal in which the Patriots were caught taping signals from the New York Jets’ sideline, as well as the Deflategate scandal that ultimately cost quarterback Tom Brady a four-game suspension.

“[I believe them] only because they have no history,” one league source said sarcastically.

“It’s been a part of their culture,” added another.

Interestingly, not everyone assumed the Patriots were engaging in something nefarious. A high-level NFC executive recounted a story to Yahoo Sports about his own in-house media taping a scout-centric video feature that involved some taping that would have required permission from inside the press box. Having gone through that experience himself, he said he could see precisely what the Patriots described unfolding.

“Unpopular opinion, but actually yes [I believe them],” he said. “… I could see it being an honest mistake. They just won’t ever get the benefit of the doubt.”

As it stands, the court of public opinion is already raging on the topic, with the expected pummeling from fans on social media. It’s also a scorching topic of interest across league circles as well, with virtually every executive, coach or agent either having an opinion or more than happy to gossip about what happened.

The pressing question that hasn’t been answered: What do team owners think?

Given New England’s past and the league being generally touchy about how other franchises are getting an edge, it’s expected Goodell will field at least some inquiries at the league meetings from owners — not to mention the media, which was already coming into this week armed with questions about the Colin Kaepernick workout, the Antonio Brown investigation and the general state of NFL officiating problems.

Now the Patriots video tape investigation will be a log dropped onto that fire, with franchise owners also facing questions about who knows what and whether a wider audience will ever see the footage.

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