New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was nullified by U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman, clearing Brady to get back to football and his starting job with the defending Super Bowl champions one week before they open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
An immediate appeal by the NFL is expected to preserve the commissioner’s heirarchy as defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement two hours after Berman’s ruling was issued. “We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game. The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season.”
Berman said in his 40-page opinion issued Thursday morning that the NFL did not honor the collective bargaining agreement when Brady was suspended without notice that discipline “would or could be the same as applied to a player who violated the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.
“Brady had no such notice,” Berman wrote.
Berman said he felt the “conduct detrimental to the league” policy was misused in the Brady case. Goodell had said he was acting to protect the integrity of the league.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement Thursday.
“The rights of Tom Brady and of all NFL players under the collective bargaining agreement were affirmed today by a Federal Judge in a court of the NFL’s choosing. We thank Judge Berman for his time, careful consideration of the issue and fair and just result,” he said. “This decision should prove, once and for all, that our Collective Bargaining Agreement does not grant this Commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of Commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly, illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed. We are happy for the victory of the rule of law for our players and our fans.
“This court’s decision to overturn the NFL Commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses. Collective bargaining is a much better process that will lead to far better results.”
Berman found fundamental flaw in the NFL editing the Ted Wells Report before it was released and not granting Brady’s legal team access to files related to alleged violations.
Brady was suspended four regular-season games by the NFL for his alleged knowledge of the intentional reduction of football air pressure in the AFC Championship game in January. Brady also was uncooperative in the opinion of the NFL and Goodell during Wells’ search for details.
In his written decision Thursday, Berman references the “independent” investigation with quotations, the implication being he was not convinced the NFL wasn’t in control of the process.
It was another public and costly defeat, in terms of public relations and legal costs, for the NFL. Goodell’s reputation has been marred in recent years by his handling of on- and off-field discipline, including admission of getting the Ray Rice punishment wrong initially; his suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for child abuse was overturned; former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturn Goodell-issued suspensions in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
Goodell said in his decision to uphold the four-game suspension after hearing Brady’s appeal on June 23 that Brady intentionally destroyed a cell phone on or shortly after being asked for access to the device. Goodell upheld the suspension on July 29, prompting Brady and the NFLPA to file suit in federal court.
Berman has continued to push for a settlement in the dispute, saying it would be “rational and logical.”
The NFLPA and Brady asked the judge to void the suspension. At a court hearing on August 24, Berman told the NFL there was precedent for judges to toss out penalties issued by arbitrators.
Berman said at the final court hearing between the two sides on August 31 that he would have a decision before Friday.
Berman’s ruling means Brady will make his 14th consecutive opening game start with the Patriots, fourth all-time for openers with the same team behind Brett Favre (15, Packers), John Elway (16, Broncos) and Dan Marino (16, Dolphins).
Patriots owner Robert Kraft accepted NFL penalties — $1 million fine and loss of multiple draft picks — bowing to the betterment of the league in March. It is possible Kraft could appeal based on Berman questioning what is punishable under the terms of Goodell’s broad powers under the CBA.
“Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity. He represents everything that is great about this game and this league,” Kraft said Thursday. “Yet, with absolutely no evidence of any actions of wrongdoing by Tom in the Wells report, the lawyers at the league still insisted on imposing and defending unwarranted and unprecedented discipline. Judge Richard Berman understood this and we are greatly appreciative of his thoughtful decision that was delivered today. Now, we can return our focus to the game on the field.”
Brady would have missed the Patriots’ first four regular-season games: the Sept. 10 home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sept. 20 at the Buffalo Bills and Sept. 27 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a Week 4 bye, the Patriots visit the Dallas Cowboys on Oct 11. Second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would start in place of Brady.
Brady would have been eligible to return in Week 6 at Indianapolis in a Sunday night game against the team that helped pave the way for the investigation.
After routing the Colts 45-7 to advance to the Super Bowl, the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win their fourth title.