Patriots withdraw appeal of NFL 'Deflategate' penalty. Why now?

After a lot of back and forth posturing, the New England Patriots have dropped their appeal of their "Deflategate" punishments. Were both sides actually ready to go to court? 

Lucy Nicholson/FILE/Reuters
FILE PHOTO- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft watches activities before the start of the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Glendale, Arizona, in this file photo taken February 1, 2015. Kraft said on Tuesday he will not appeal the penalty the National Football League handed the reigning Super Bowl champions for the team's role in the "Deflategate" scandal. REUTERS//Files

An offseason in the National Football League (NFL) is now a sporting event in itself. 

Between weeks of pre-draft coverage, draft analysis, players getting into trouble with the law, and on top of it all, throw in a cheating scandal from the most successful franchise in the last decade-plus, you have a compelling television drama. 

However, a Tuesday afternoon announcement from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft that the team would drop the appeal of their punishments from the "Deflategate" affair let some of the hot air out of a high-profile story that may have ended up in court.

"Believing in the strength of the partnership and the 32 teams, we have concentrated power of adjudication in the office of the commissioner," Kraft said in a press conference. "Although I might disagree with what was decided, I do have respect for the commissioner, and believe he’s doing what he perceives is in the best interest of the full 32."

The team was originally docked a 2016 first-round draft pick and a 2017 fourth-round draft pick, in addition to a $1 million fine. Patriots game footballs used in the 2015 AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts were found to be lacking sufficient air pressure in an investigation led by attorney Ted Wells and sanctioned by the league. On May 6, the punishment was handed down by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent in letters sent to both Mr. Kraft, and quarterback Tom Brady who was suspended four games for his role in the incident.

Kraft had denounced the disciplinary measures shortly after they were handed down, saying in part, "Today’s punishment ... was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence."  

Kraft's decision to withdraw the appeal, has no bearing on Mr. Brady's appeal of his suspension filed by the NFL Players' Association, according to NBC Sports. 

The decision to end the appeal raises some interesting questions. On Monday, ESPN reported that the Patriots and the NFL had engaged in "back-channel conversations" in an attempt to stave off a nasty back and forth and possible litigation.

Before the announcement, Kraft had seemed like he intended to fight the charges, telling Peter King of Sports Illustrated (SI) the Deflategate saga was, "an accusation of wrongdoing, without proof.”

However, one had to have the feeling Kraft was itching to make a deal when he was hesitant to say if he was willing to circumvent league by-laws to appeal a league punishment of an organization telling SI, "I’m not going to comment on that at this point in time. I’m going to leave it. I won’t say.”

NBC Sports, speculated that in return for dropping the litigation threat there might have been a wink-wink agreement that the league would commute or possibly overturn Brady's suspension. 

Another reason why Kraft may have decided to give up the fight is his well-publicized friendship with Commissioner Roger Goodell. Though in his interview with SI following the punishment, Kraft was cold on the matter and just said, "You’ll have to ask him.”

Perhaps Kraft dropped the appeal out of fear of being labeled as hypocritical following criticism that came in from all sides after Mr. Goodell's handling of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence incident. Last September, Kraft took to CBS "This Morning" to voice his support for the embattled commissioner. 

There is little history of legal action taken by a team against the league. Late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis had a renegade reputation during his ownership, suing the league for anti-trust practices in the 1980s over the right to move his team to Los Angeles, which ended in a settlement. He lost the case he filed, when he was forced to move the Raiders back to Oakland in 1995, claiming the league sabotaged his negotiations with the city of Los Angeles.

However, none of these cases dealt with a team's disciplinary record, and some experts thought that Kraft did not desire to become the "Al Davis" of today's game. 

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