Patriots

The Tom Brady suspension isn’t even the most damaging part of the Patriots’ punishment

COMMENTARY

I guarantee this is a sentence you’ve never read here before and never will again.

Great job, Roger Goodell!

What leadership! What integrity! What commissionering! No, commissionering is not technically a word, but it’s totally one that should be invented for Goodell’s unique brand of … commissionering.

I don’t mean to parrot what Goodell surely tells himself in the mirror before bedtime every night in the master bedroom of his ivory tower. But man, here’s hoping his arms are long enough to pat himself on the back, because he’s done himself one better here.

And his genius, accidental thought it may be, must be acknowledged, even if it is delivered with the anger of newly revealed injustice and leaves bitter aftertaste of sarcasm.

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There isn’t a commissioner in professional sports — perhaps in the history of professional sports — who would so overreact to a minor transgression of gamesmanship by one of his league’s most accomplished and admired stars that the suspension of that star for 25 percent of his season would not stand as the most unreasonable part of the punishment.

Oh, make no mistake, the NFL’s suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season for his perceived knowledge of the slight deflation of footballs before the AFC Championship falls somewhere between preposterous and offensive.

The Wells Report required 243 pages and a couple of thesaurus’s worth of adverbs and qualifiers to determine that Brady was “at least generally aware” that two Patriots employees deliberately altered the air pressure in game balls before a 45-7 victory over the Colts.

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Common sense suggests that the “generally aware” element of the report is accurate. Brady’s competitiveness is legendary — and that aspect of his personality is one of the reasons why the skinny afterthought of a sixth-round pick has become a legend.

But even if Brady was well aware of the manipulation of the footballs — hell, even if he was ordering it. overseeing it, and providing giant needles with T.B. 12’s FOOTBALL DEFLATORS etched on the side — the punishment is akin to being sent to Leavenworth for jaywalking.

It makes no sense to anyone in possession of a shred of common sense, and it’s just as bewildering to read in print. Tom Brady was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the league.” Tom Brady. Suspended. By Roger Goodell. For lack of integrity.

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My Irony-O-Meter just spontaneously combusted, fizzled out, then spontaneously combusted again.

Yet somehow — and here is Goodell’s real genius — the most offensive and unjust punishment in his ruling, which was delivered by NFL executive vice president and chief commish backslapper Troy Vincent, somehow is not the suspension of Brady for a span twice as long as the original ruling after Ray Rice punched out his fiancee.

No, the part of the punishment that should most infuriate Patriots fans is not taking Brady off the field, but deliberately affecting the level of talent that will join him on the field in the coming years.

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Even those of us who expected Goodell to wield his ball-peen hammer of justice with reckless imprudence cannot believe he docked the Patriots a first-round pick in 2016 (as well as a fourth-rounder the following year and a $1 million fine) for this petty misdemeanor.

First-round picks are franchises’ greatest currency, and Belichick uses them to extraordinary effect, not only annually drafting high-quality players (his worst first-rounder was either Laurence Maroney or Brandon Meriweather, both of whom had their useful Sundays) but occasionally swapping them for future gains.

The Patriots didn’t just lose their quarterback for four games. A franchise whose coach was exonerated in the Wells Report lost the chance to draft a player who logically would have helped them for years.

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It’s logical to presume Brady’s suspension will be reduced upon appeal. His agent, Don Yee, has already lit the fire and is queuing up the brimstone, offering the following as part of a longer statement released in the aftermath of the announcement:

“The NFL has a well-documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside, and a former federal judge has found the commissioner has abused his discretion in the past, so this outcome does not surprise me.”

Perhaps the outcome does not surprise the Patriots. Perhaps it does. But even if they expected Goodell to go over the top in delivering his sanctions, they should not accept it without a fight.

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A statement issued by the Patriots shortly before 9 p.m. Monday night expressed support for Brady and called the investigation one-sided, but did not reveal whether the Patriots will attempt to dispute the ruling in some way.

Strongly worded statements are swell for appeasing the fans, but they aren’t enough now. They must now be accompanied by equally strong actions.

That begins with the refusal to unveil the Super Bowl XLIX banner — which is supposed to be part of the league’s opening-night festivities — until Brady is back in the huddle.

But it cannot end there. Goodell needs to learn the hard way that Kraft, for a long time a powerful ally, has been forced by the commissioner’s incompetence to become the enemy.

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The Patriots are being punished for Goodell’s botched disciplinary measures in the recent past. They are a victim of the commissioner’s overcompensation.

Don’t let him damage the Patriots’ present and future in a transparent attempt to repair his own damaged reputation.

Don’t let him convince himself the job really was well done.

It’s time for the Patriots to fight back. It’s time to scorch the earth like they scorched the Colts.

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