Judge Richard Berman has ruled in favor of Tom Brady and the NFLPA, nullifying the quarterback’s four-game suspension, according to Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays of The Associated Press. While the NFL figures to appeal the decision and continue the litigation process, the ruling paves the way for Brady to start for the Patriots in Week 1.
After Brady was initially suspended for four games by the league for his supposed involvement in DeflateGate, commissioner Roger Goodell acted as the arbitrator during Brady’s appeal, and upheld the suspension. The NFLPA appealed that decision in court, and throughout the legal process, Judge Berman was critical of the NFL’s case, hammering the league’s lawyers with questions, an indication that momentum was shifting in Brady’s favor.
Judge Berman continually encouraged the NFL and NFLPA to work out a compromise, but with Brady unwilling to acknowledge any involvement in deflating footballs, and the league unwilling to budge from its stance that he accept guilt, the two sides never got close to reaching a settlement. That left Berman to make a decision one way or the other, either upholding the four-game suspension or overturning it. As the AP report indicates, he opted for the latter.
Three primary factors are at the core of Berman’s ruling, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com: Goodell’s decision not to allow NFL counsel Jeff Pash to be examined during Brady’s appeal; a failure by the NFL to give Brady “adequate notice” of potential discipline; and the league denying access to files during the appeal process. Berman’s full, 40-page ruling can be found right here.
With Brady no longer having to serve the suspension, Jimmy Garoppolo will return to a backup role, while the Super Bowl MVP prepares to face the Steelers a week from tonight. If Brady had been forced to miss the first four games of the season, he also would have sat out contests against the Bills, Jaguars, and Cowboys, but he now appears poised to play in all of those games. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, the NFL is unlikely to seek an injunction to keep Brady off the field, if and when the league appeals Berman’s ruling.
The decision to vacate Brady’s suspension leads to a handful of additional questions. Joel Corry of CBSSports.com wonders (via Twitter) if Patriots owner Robert Kraft may reconsider his acceptance of the penalties his team received for DeflateGate. The league fined the Patriots $1MM and took away two draft picks, including a 2016 first-rounder, a decision Kraft accepted at the time for the good of the league.
Meanwhile, Trey Wingo of NFL Live observes (via Twitter) that the NFL has now lost several court decisions in recent years, including having their penalties for Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson overturned. As such, it may be time for the league to revisit its discipline and appeal process. In the meantime, a player like Greg Hardy may be more inclined to challenge his suspension in court — Jason Cole of Bleacher Report tweets that Hardy’s camp is discussing that possibility, in the wake of the Brady decision.
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