The NFL has found no evidence linking Coach Bill Belichick or others on the New England Patriots’ football staff to the video shot by a crew on behalf of the team showing footage of the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during a game last month in Cleveland, according to people familiar with the matter.
The league’s investigation of the latest video incident involving the Patriots is winding down and could be completed as soon as this week, according to those people. They said it remains likely at this point, barring the last-minute uncovering of more damaging evidence, that the NFL will impose penalties consistent with those handed out in recent years in other cases of game-day infractions.
That would mean that the Patriots probably would be facing a fine in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly the loss or reduction in value of a draft pick.
It is not clear, however, when the NFL will announce a decision. Once NFL security officials complete their investigation and submit their findings, Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league leaders still must review those findings, decide whether to conduct additional interviews, deliberate over the potential penalties and determine when to announce the ruling.
But there is no indication that Belichick or the Patriots’ football staff has been tied to the video or that the investigation has uncovered evidence of a sustained, organized effort by the Patriots to gain a competitive on-field advantage, according to those people with knowledge of the case.
Belichick has said repeatedly that he and the Patriots’ football staff had no involvement in the video.
Belichick and the Patriots were fined a total of $750,000 by the NFL and the team was stripped of a first-round draft selection in 2007 in the Spygate case. The Patriots were found to be improperly taping opponents’ coaching signals.
In this case, the Patriots have admitted violating NFL video policy during the Bengals-Browns game on Dec. 8 in Cleveland. A video crew working for the Patriots and stationed in the press box, after being credentialed by the Browns, shot footage of the Bengals’ sideline during their loss in Cleveland. The Patriots beat the Bengals one week later in Cincinnati.
But the Patriots said their violation was committed unwittingly while the crew filmed an online feature about a scout who works for the team and was in attendance at the Bengals-Browns game. Bengals officials confronted a member of the Patriots’ film crew in the press box during the game. The videographer offered to delete the footage of the Bengals’ sideline and said he hadn’t known that he was doing anything improper.
Fox Sports later obtained and aired footage of the incident. It showed a video monitor aimed at the Bengals’ sideline and contained audio of dialogue between a Patriots videographer and a Bengals security staffer.
The NFL originally had hoped to move quickly through its probe and decide on penalties. The process slowed when the investigation was turned over to NFL security officials to conduct interviews and sort through evidence, apparently including text messages and emails. But the league all along has appeared to consider the Patriots’ violation a typical game-day violation worthy of typical game-day disciplinary measures, and that does not seem to have changed.
Precedents being considered by the NFL for the upcoming Patriots penalties include measures imposed in recent years on the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, as well as on the Patriots in the Deflategate case.
In that case, the Patriots were fined $1 million and stripped of first- and fourth-round draft choices for, the NFL concluded, scheming to use underinflated footballs. Quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for four games. But those penalties were more substantial than those imposed on the four other teams in the cases being considered.
Those teams were fined amounts ranging from $150,000 to $350,000. Giants Coach Ben McAdoo was fined $50,000. Browns General Manager Ray Farmer was suspended for four games. Falcons President Rich McKay was suspended from the NFL competition committee for three months. The Falcons lost a fifth-round draft pick. The Giants had a fourth-round draft choice dropped to the end of that round.
The Falcons were punished for pumping fake crowd noise into the stadium during games, the Browns for Farmer sending texts to the team’s coaches during games, the Giants for using a walkie-talkie on the sideline to replace a malfunctioning communications system, and the Ravens for having two players on the field simultaneously during the preseason with the coach-to-player headsets in their helmets.
The Patriots, winners of six Super Bowls with Belichick and Brady, went 12-4 this season. They won their 11th straight AFC East title but squandered a first-round playoff bye by losing their regular season finale Sunday at home to the Miami Dolphins. They host the Tennessee Titans in a first-round AFC playoff game Saturday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts.