The NFL suspended Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady without pay for the first four games on Monday for his role in a scheme to deflate footballs used in the AFC title game. The league also fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks, including next years' first-round choice.
The league also indefinitely suspended the two equipment staffers believed to have carried out the plan, including one who called himself "The Deflator."
A league-authorized investigation by attorney Ted Wells found that Brady "was at least generally aware" of plans by two Patriots employees to prepare the balls to his liking, below the league-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.
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The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 and went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Brady will miss the season's showcase kickoff game on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, then Week 2 at Buffalo, a home game against Jacksonville and a game at Dallas. He will return the week the Patriots face the Colts in Indianapolis.
The Patriots lose next year's first-round pick and a fourth-round choice in 2017.
Brady has three days to appeal the suspension to Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee. His agent, Don Yee, said "the discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis" and that Brady will appeal.
"And if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic," Yee said in a statement.
Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft released a statement about the punishment later on Monday:
“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league. Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence. We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report. Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered.”
The fine matches the largest the NFL has handed out, to Ed DeBartolo Jr., then the San Francisco 49ers' owner, who pleaded guilty to a felony in his role in a Louisiana gambling scandal in 1999.
It's the second time in eight years the Patriots have been punished for violating league rules. In 2007, the team was fined $500,000 and docked a first-round draft pick, and coach Bill Belichick was fined $250,000 for videotaping opposing coaches as a way to decipher their play signals.
In his 243-page report released by the league last week, Wells found that the team broke the rules again, this time by deflating the game footballs after they had been checked by officials. Although the report did not conclusively link the four-time Super Bowl champion to the illegal activity, text messages between the equipment staffers indicated that Brady knew it was going on. Investigators said Brady's explanation for the messages was implausible.
"It is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady's knowledge and approval," the report said.
The NFL allows each team to provide the footballs used by its offense — a procedure Brady played a role in creating — but it requires them to be inflated in that range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch, and Brady has expressed a preference for the lower end of the range.
Brady said last week that the scandal hasn't taken away from the team's 28-24 Super Bowl win over Seattle — its fourth NFL title since the 2001 season.
"Absolutely not," he said at a previously planned appearance in Salem, Massachusetts, last Thursday night. "We earned everything we got and achieved as a team, and I am proud of that and so are our fans."
Fans chanted "Brady" and "MVP," then gave him a standing ovation as he entered the arena in the town made famous by the colonial witch trials. Since the airing of the scandal in the hours after the Colts game, New England fans have been unwavering in their support for the team, blaming the investigation on grudges by opponents jealous of the team's success.
Brady declined to discuss his thoughts about the report, saying, "I don't have really any reaction. It's only been 30 hours, so I haven't had much time to digest it fully, but when I do, I will be sure to let you know how I feel about it."
Brady said he hopes to discuss the details publicly soon.
"There's still a process that's going forth right now, and I'm involved in that process," said Brady.