Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his alleged role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship game has been upheld by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Brady has authorized the NFL Players Association to appeal his case in federal court.
The league announced its "Deflategate" decision Tuesday. In Goodell's decision, it said that the New England Patriots quarterback "instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early 2014, a period that included that AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation."
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"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," Goodell said in his decision.
"During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device."
The text messages were critical to Wells' investigation because they could have shown details of Brady's messages with equipment managers blamed for deflating footballs.
According to the ruling, Brady did not tell authorities of the destroyed phone until almost four months after investigators first asked for access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on the phone.
Wells' investigation had no subpoena power and Brady was under no legal obligation to cooperate.
Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells on March 6.
Don Yee, Brady's agent, issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that the commissioner's decision was "deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness.
"Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred."
Yee went on to call the appeal process "a sham," saying it resulted only in Goodell "rubber-stamping" his own decision.
"The Commissioner's decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history," Yee said. "His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game."
The four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was suspended by NFL executive Troy Vincent in May following the Wells report. The Patriots were fined $1 million and docked a pair of draft picks. The team didn't appeal its penalty, but Brady and his lawyers made their case during a 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23.
Brady has never been accused of personally manipulating the footballs or of actually deflating them, but investigators believed that Brady was "at least generally aware" of the activities of the staff who allegedly deflated the footballs. No coaches, including head coach Bill Belichick, were ever accused of having any knowledge of the deflation.
The Patriots issued a statement saying thaty are "extremely disappointed" in Goodell's ruling.
"We cannot comprehend the league's position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing."
The team said it continues to "unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady" and calling it "incomprehensible as to why the league is trying to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."
Brady and the Patriots have denied knowingly using deflated footballs in the AFC title game win over Indianapolis. The Patriots went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl and Brady was the MVP.
The NFL announced in late January that Wells would head an investigation into New England's use of underinflated balls against the Colts. More than three months later, the 243-page Wells report was issued, saying it was "more probable than not" that Brady was "at least generally aware" that footballs he used were improperly deflated by team personnel.
The report included colorful text messages between locker room attendant Jim McNally, who at one point called himself as "the deflator," and equipment assistant John Jastremski.
The men complained about Brady's unhappiness with the balls' inflation levels and in one message McNally said: "Tom sucks...im going make that next ball a f----- balloon."
Brady appealed the decision and the union asked Goodell to recuse himself from hearing the appeal because he could not be impartial and might be called as a witness. But Goodell said it was his responsibility to oversee the hearing to protect the integrity of the league.
Scientific arguments were a major part of Brady's defense. Brady's lawyers tried to shoot down the findings of an independent firm hired to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure inside the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts.
Brady, who turns 38 on Aug. 3, took nearly every snap last season. But he'll miss the first four games this season unless the court case delays his suspension. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick in 2014, would replace Brady, the two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP.
New England hosts Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 to open the regular season. It then goes to Buffalo, hosts Jacksonville, has a bye, and is at Dallas in the last game of Brady's suspension.
Click here for the full NFLPA statement.
Click here for the full Patriots statement.