The Cleveland Browns are the real losers here.
Even more than usual.
The whiff of defeat filtered along the shores of Lake Erie ever so swiftly on Monday afternoon, transforming what could still turn out to be a productive draft week for football’s most pathetic franchise into a harbinger of their ultimate fate come the NFL’s regular season. The Browns have indeed been set up as the sacrificial pawn in the New England Patriots’ renewed revenge tour that will begin to headline local arenas beginning with FirstEnergy Stadium in early October.
It will more than likely be Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s first appearance of the 2016 season.
And he’s going to be pissed.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate saga on Monday, meaning, barring perhaps an appeal to the Supreme Court, the New England quarterback will surrender his spot to backup Jimmy Garoppolo for the first quarter of the regular season. Provided Brady’s suspension sticks this time, Garoppolo would get two prime-time starts against the Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 11) and Houston Texans (Sept. 22), in addition to pivotal games against AFC East foes the Miami Dolphins (Sept. 18) and Buffalo Bills (Oct. 2).
Then in Week 5, it’s the Browns, winners of 34 games since the beginning of the 2008 season, when Garoppolo was only a junior in high school. Brady would return that Sunday with a team he’s led to 36 regular-season wins since 2013, and a chip on his incredibly valuable shoulder, coming off an offseason during which he, ultimately, was a pawn himself in a powerful labor war between the National Football League Players Association and the Office of the Illustrious Commissioner, Roger Goodell.
It’s a little early in the season for flex scheduling by the networks, but how do you think that one will do in the ratings, even considering the 1 p.m. start time?
“We are pleased the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that the Commissioner properly exercised his authority under the collective bargaining agreement to act in cases involving the integrity of the game,” the NFL said in a statement following the release of the ruling Monday. “That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years.”
In the end (which this might not be as Brady’s legal team and the NFLPA could still file an appeal), the nonsensical saga of Deflategate was no longer about Brady’s elaborate plan to monkey with the PSI levels of footballs used during that AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January 2015. It was no longer about sticking the Patriots with a punishment for their part in messing with the “integrity of the game,” one littered with far more egregious problems than equipment violations. It was certainly no longer about the lack of firm conclusions in the Wells Report nor the ruling by Judge Richard Berman last fall that left egg smeared on and dripping down Goodell’s smug mug.
This was all about two out of three appeal judges making it clear: Goodell has this kind of authority within the parameters of the NFL, and the players only have their union to thank for it.
However livid you figure they have to be inside the offices at One Patriot Place, this isn’t exactly a win for anyone training to play for the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans or Bills either. While they may be the four teams who could ultimately get a run at a Brady-less team to start the 2016 campaign, Monday’s reversal of fortune has ramifications for the NFL’s future beyond a mere quartet of contests.
“Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all,” the ruling reads. “We must simply ensure that the arbitrator was ‘even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority’ and did not ‘ignore the plain language of the contract.’
“In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline. Although this tripartite regime may appear somewhat unorthodox, it is the regime bargained for and agreed upon by the parties, which we can only presume they determined was mutually satisfactory.”
Translation: Goodell is God in the NFL.
And NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is the man who helped anoint him.
It took a few years for Goodell to prove just how much power he had under this collective bargaining agreement, the same one that Patriots owner Bob Kraft once saluted the commissioner for leading the league toward. But even Goodell, in all his omnipotence, couldn’t have predicted the level to which Brady’s defense in Deflategate would unravel. Unless he knowingly pounced on the right team, never one to back down from alleged transgressions, and the right guy, a superstar who inspires partisan views across the country. Could there have ever been a better forum for Goodell to demonstrate what turns out to be his “rightful” authority?
“The NFLPA is disappointed in the decision by the Second Circuit,” the union said in a statement. “We fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement. Our Union will carefully review the decision, consider all of our options and continue to fight for players’ rights and for the integrity of the game.”
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann was the only one on the circuit who questioned the commissioner’s power.
‘‘I am troubled by the Commissioner’s decision to uphold the unprecedented four-game suspension,” Katzmann wrote in his dissent. ‘‘The Commissioner failed to even consider a highly relevant alternative penalty.”
That’s because relevancy was never the point.
Goodell’s power was all that ever mattered in this pursuit of Brady and the Patriots.
Now, it’s clear. He legally has it, and that’s officially a warning to every player who takes the field.
Mostly the Browns on Oct. 9.
Who stars in the Deflategate movie?