September 09, 2015

#Deflategate and #Spygate: Lawsuits, leakers, players

ESPN’s bombshell linking New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichik’s Spygate and quarterback Tom Brady’s Deflategate has several sidebars to it.

One, from outside the league, is, is there any chance of lawsuits?

One could conceivably come from either a Vegas or a non-Vegas sports book, convinced it lost money on point spreads on some games. Given the duration and depth of the spying, more than previously known (outside of the Boston Globe reporting the Patriots had spied on a St. Louis Rams 2002 Super Bowl walk-through practice, then the NFL forcing a retraction, even though that appears to have been true), I’m sure major sports book companies can find all sorts of game to look at.

Starting with that one.

Per Vegas, the Rams were a 14-point favorite in an expected 53-point total. Actual final, as NFL fans know? Patriots 20, Rams 17.

And, about that game, and the filming of a Rams' pre-game walk-through, we know, as largely reported before:
During the walk-through, the Rams had also practiced some of their newly designed red zone plays. When they ran the same plays late in the Super Bowl's fourth quarter, the Patriots' defense was in position on nearly every down. On one new play, quarterback Kurt Warner rolled to his right and turned to throw to Marshall Faulk in the flat, where three Patriots defenders were waiting. On the sideline, Rams coach Mike Martz was stunned. He was famous for his imaginative, unpredictable plays, and now it was as if the Patriots knew what was coming on plays that had never been run before. The Patriots' game plan had called for a defender to hit Faulk on every down, as a means of eliminating him, but one coach who worked with an assistant on that 2001 Patriots team says that the ex-Pats assistant coach once bragged that New England knew exactly what the Rams would call in the red zone. "He'd say, 'A little birdie told us,'" the coach says now.
Sounds more than just a bit suspicious.

Or, let’s say a centimillionaire or higher rent guy is a big NFL fantasy sports fan, and has played in leagues with serious betting. Is he going to sue for losses?

And ... in a civil suit, there's no Fifth Amendment to plead.

The second is from inside the league.

Thinking like a journalist (rather than thinking like a pot-stirrer regarding a potential Vegas suit), the big question is:

Who started leaking to ESPN and why?

Is it the same (anonymous) owner who called the original Deflategate decision a make-good, and now feels HE got burned? (That said, per the tail end of the ESPN piece, other owners had similar sentiment.) Does the attempt to call John Mara in as a mediator last week make it less, or more, likely, that it's him?

It could be one of those disgruntleds, but which one? 

Or, could it be ...

Stan Kroenke, trying to get leverage to move the Rams back to Los Angeles? Even though a lot of fellow owners reportedly dislike him? Or, maybe precisely because a lot of fellow owners dislike him? Obviously, as owner of the Rams, he’s got a direct connection on the story. And, as 2002 Super Bowl loser, even as Vegas had things pegged totally differently, he has leverage, too. (Meanwhile, he becomes more loathed by the day in St. Louis. Even though the city and/or county may shell out for his every stadium demand and more at end.)

Let's say Kroenke knows even more, because at this point, there may well be an "even more" still lurking. He threatens to drop that other shoe ... or sue, the league, Goodell, AND Kraft and the Patriots, knowing Goodell once was, until Deflategate, Kraft's fair-haired boy who shielded Kraft and the Pats during Deflategate.

Kroenke's price for silence? A guaranteed 75 percent of owners supporting his move to LA, no matter what.

Meanwhile, back to the 2002 Super Bowl ...

Speaking of, that may not have been the only playoff spying. The Pats beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-17 for the AFC title. Retired Steelers wideout Hines Ward thinks the Pats were metaphorically in his team's huddles. Some Steelers coaches think the same of the 2005 title game, part of the Pats' third SB run.

However, then-head coach of the Steelers Bill Cowher works for CBS Sports. His 2002 Rams counterpart, Mike Martz, works for Fox. Neither's going to bite the NFL hand that feeds them. However, both 2003 Carolina Panthers coach John Fox and 2004 Philadelphia Eagles leader Andy Reid (the losers in the Pats' second and third Super Bowls) are both out of the NFL. What will they say? (They're not referenced in the ESPN piece for comment.) 

That said, re Martz, ESPN says:
The Super Bowl against the Patriots had derailed Martz's career as much as it made Belichick's. Martz's offense, dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf" in 1999, was never the same, and in 2006, he was fired as the Rams' coach. 
He's got plenty of Fox money, and NFL head coach money before that. If there's any statute of limitations opening, why doesn't HE sue? Actual damages from loss of Super Bowl, from Rams firing, from loss of commercial endorsement possibilities, more. Punitive damages obviously part of the mix. On the other hand, because he signed off on his PR coverup statement for Goodell, his own credibility in a suit would be iffy.

What about Warner? ESPN reports that after Spygate broke, Belichick was worried it would hurt his chances for the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton. Well, Warner has right to feel the same way if denied a second Super Bowl title, as well as, like Martz, losing contract and endorsement money.

And, as far as a classic good vs evil narrative ...

Wouldn't you love to see the lawsuit styled "Warner v Belichick"? I know I would.

Speaking of players like Warner ...

As for Belichick's known reputation for hiring veterans, even those cut in the middle of the season, we now have a reason for that, too:
As much as the Patriots tried to keep the circle of those who knew about the taping small, sometimes the team would add recently cut players from upcoming opponents and pay them only to help decipher signals, former Patriots staffers say. In 2005, for instance, they signed a defensive player from a team they were going to play in the upcoming season. Before that game, the player was led to a room where Adams was waiting. They closed the door, and Adams played a compilation tape that matched the signals to the plays from the player's former team, and asked how many were accurate. "He had about 50 percent of them right," the player says now.
Did they keep Reggie Wayne long enough with his 10-day signing? With him being a Colts lifer (you know, the Colts, the team beaten in Deflategate), looks VERY suspicious. Could Belichick have gotten enough "milking" done in that time? Possibly. Is he that cold-blooded? Definitely.

Signing LeGarrette Blount after the Steelers cut him midseason last year certainly fits this MO. And, I'm sure we can comb through previous Patriot rosters for other examples.

But, Spygate, as originally construed, isn't the most damning part of the Patriots' cheating. 

Enhanced Spygate, per what we now know, included things like stealing other teams' play sheets. For the unaware, an NFL team normally "scripts out" the first 20 or so offensive plays it plans to run in a game. Knowing this would be a killer.

That said, the Pats became so known for this that some teams would put out fakes. The fact that Commissioner Almost, Roger Goodell, took no action related to any of this also reflects on him, and the über-cozy relationship he had (until this summer) with Pats owner Kraft.

But, even when things got to this level:
A former member of the NFL competition committee says the committee spent much of 2001-06 "discussing ways in which the Patriots cheated," even if nothing could be proved. It reached a level of paranoia in which conspiracy theories ran wild and nothing -- the notion of bugging locker rooms or of Brady having a second frequency in his helmet to help decipher the defense -- was out of the realm of possibility.
Before Goodell, his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, refused to take action, too.

Per what I said above about lawsuits ... goes to motive, your honor.

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