Matt Walsh is going to talk. Now the question is, what does he have to say?
The NFL and the former Patriots employee, who has intimated he has additional information about the team's prohibited taping practices, reached a legal agreement yesterday, finally allowing him to come forward.
Walsh, who now works as an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, will meet with Roger Goodell in the commissioner's New York office May 13, and according to terms of the agreement must turn over any materials that relate to allegations of the Patriots videotaping opponents - including videotapes and audiotapes - to the league on or before May 8.
Walsh, who must certify to the league in writing that he has turned over all such materials, may retain a single copy of whatever he delivers to the league.
In exchange for Walsh's cooperation, the league agreed to provide Walsh with legal indemnification, protecting him against future legal claims and damages and agreeing to pay for pursuant legal and travel costs, and also promised that neither the NFL nor the Patriots would sue him.
"I am pleased that we now have an agreement that provides Mr. Walsh with appropriate legal protections," said his attorney, Michael N. Levy of the Washington, D.C.-based firm McKee Nelson. "Mr. Walsh is looking forward to providing the NFL with the materials he has and telling the NFL what he knows."
What Walsh knows has hung over the NFL and the Patriots since media reports began to surface earlier this year that he had additional information about the team's taping practices. Walsh's intimations extended the "Spygate" saga, which began Sept. 9, when the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets at Giants Stadium in the season opener.
The NFL responded swiftly, punishing the Patriots in a Sept. 13 ruling by Goodell that fined the team $250,000, head coach Bill Belichick $500,000 - the maximum allowed under the league's constitution and bylaws - and docking the team a first-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) in Saturday's draft. The league also demanded the Patriots turn over all tapes and notes related to their practice of filming other teams' signals, which was revealed to date to Belichick's arrival as coach in 2000.
The league said the penalty was for the totality of the team's actions, but that Goodell reserved the right to revisit the penalty if additional information came to light.
On Feb. 2, the day before the Patriots' 17-14 upset loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Boston Herald, citing an unnamed source, reported the Patriots had taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to New England's 20-17 upset in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
Both the Patriots and the NFL, which already was under pressure from Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter for destroying the tapes and notes it forced the Patriots to turn over, forcefully denied the allegation. Belichick told the Globe in February he had never seen a tape of another team's practice prior to playing that team and that in his career he had never filmed a walkthrough, not even one for his own team.
However, the specter of Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant who was fired by the team in 2003, hovered over the team and the league, prolonging "Spygate."
"Commissioner Goodell imposed substantial discipline on Coach Belichick and the club as a result of that practice," said an NFL-issued statement on the agreement with Walsh. "The interview with Mr. Walsh will seek to determine whether he has any new information about that videotaping practice or other possible violations of league rules."
The agreement was reached 45 days after the league and Walsh's attorney announced March 9 that "substantial progress" had been made in negotiations that would allow Walsh to come forward and nine weeks after Goodell told reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he expected an agreement to be reached "shortly."
One interesting provision of the agreement is that Walsh is hindered for five years from directly profiting from his information. If he does profit, he has to repay the league for the indemnification, with the money going to charity, and then would be able to pocket additional money above the indemnification amount.
Walsh had initially claimed that a confidentiality agreement with the Patriots prevented him from speaking freely. The Patriots in their written statement yesterday reiterated that Walsh was bound by no such agreement, and in their view no legal protections were necessary for him to come forward.
The team's statement said that after "a frustrating and lengthy negotiation period . . . Walsh has been granted a significant number of privileges through this agreement, none of which the Patriots or the NFL were obligated to give."
It remains to be seen whether it was worth the wait, and whether Walsh can provide closure for the Patriots.
"The New England Patriots are pleased to learn that Matt Walsh is finally willing to come forward to meet with the NFL," said the club in a statement. "We are eagerly anticipating his honest disclosures to Commissioner Goodell next month and the return of all the materials he took during his time of employment. We fully expect this meeting to conclude the league's investigation into a damaging and false allegation that was originally levied against the team on the day before this year's Super Bowl."