The New England Patriots’ attorney said the conclusions of the Wells Report, which led to a four-game suspension for quarterback Tom Brady and $1 million fine for the team, are “incomplete, incorrect and lack context.”
The team also rejected the claim that it was uncooperative, and said it was being punished for an investigator’s oversight.
Daniel Goldberg, a senior partner in the Boston office of Morgan Lewis who represented the Patriots in the deflated-football controversy, said he seeks to provide additional context for balance and consideration in a 36-page annotation that challenges points in the Wells Report.
The report, commissioned by the National Football League and headed by New York lawyer Ted Wells, concluded on May 6 that Brady was “at least generally aware” that two Patriots’ staffers deflated game balls to below the league’s minimum air pressure before last season’s conference championship game.
“There is simply no evidentiary support for the conclusion that Mr. Brady was aware of any actual or even attempted effort to improperly release air from footballs,” Goldberg wrote in his response. “All the evidence -- as well as logic -- is to the contrary.”
Brady has until 5 p.m. today to file an appeal of his four-game ban through the NFL Players Association. His agent, Don Yee, has said they intend to challenge the discipline.
The Patriots’ counsel said the Wells Report dismisses the scientific explanation for the natural loss of air pressure in the Patriots’ footballs by “inexplicably rejecting” the referee’s recollection of which gauge he used in his pregame inspection, while accepting his recollection for the inflation levels. Goldberg also said in his response that text messages acknowledged to be attempts at humor and exaggeration between Jim McNally, an officials’ locker room attendant for the Patriots, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, are interpreted as a plot to improperly deflate footballs, “even though none of them refer to any such plot.”
The Wells report included text messages in which McNally referred to himself as the “deflator” and was involved in a series of communications about his impact on the inflation level of the Patriots’ game balls even though his responsibilities as a locker room attendant didn’t involve the preparation, inflation or deflation of footballs.
Goldberg said McNally, whom he described as a “big fellow,” used the term “deflate” to refer to losing weight. He cited another text from November of 2014 between the two Patriots’ staffers in that context.
“This banter, and Mr. McNally’s goal of losing weight, meant Mr. McNally was the ‘deflator,’” Goldberg said. “There was nothing complicated or sinister about it.”
There’s also no evidence that Brady preferred footballs inflated to 12.5 pounds per-square-inch -- the lowest end of the league’s required level -- and no evidence anyone even thought that he did, Goldberg said.
The Wells Report said it was “more probable than not” that McNally and Jastremski released air from game balls after they’d been examined by officials before a 45-7 rout over the Indianapolis Colts that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Investigators said it was unlikely that the two staffers “would personally and unilaterally engage in such conduct in the absence of Brady’s awareness and consent.”
Patriots owner Bob Kraft said on Monday that the punishment, which included the loss of a first-round pick in 2016, far exceeded any reasonable expectation and was based on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
The Wells Report said McNally, 48, had removed the game balls from the officials’ locker room without permission of the referees and brought the footballs into a bathroom for 1 minute, 40 seconds before the AFC title game -- a period long enough to deflate them. Goldberg said the report doesn’t say that league officials failed to supervise the balls, as league rules require.
The Patriots’ rebuttal said that McNally, “a physically big man,” had to navigate a crowd of NFL officials who had been watching the overtime finish to the NFC championship game. It described how he “lumbered past” them with two large bags of footballs on his shoulders and that no one objected, told him to stop or wait for a league official. Among those he walked past was the NFL official who had been alerted to the Colts’ concerns about PSI levels before the game.
“In short, if officials lost track of the location of game footballs, it was not because Mr. McNally stealthily removed them,” Goldberg said.
Even with the attention given to the balls at halftime of the AFC championship, the Patriots said security video shows McNally, with no objection, taking the footballs from the officials’ locker room back to the field for the second half unaccompanied by any league or game official.
“The report nonetheless portrays Mr. McNally’s departure from the Officials’ Locker Room before the game as a step in secretly taking the footballs for nefarious reasons,” the Patriots said.
The Patriots and their lawyer also took exception to the NFL saying its discipline took under consideration that McNally wasn’t made available for an additional interview and Brady refused to share e-mails and text messages.
“The Patriots advised the investigators of their reluctance to have Mr. McNally back yet again, particularly given the media harassment he and his family had suffered as a result of prior leaks of Mr. McNally’s name and hometown,” Goldberg said. He added that the team was being severely punished because the investigative team had overlooked materials they already had and declined to say why they wanted additional interviews. “There was no refusal to cooperate by the Patriots,” Goldberg said.