The Patriot Act: Deflategate, Theater of the Absurd

May 14, 2015 Leave a comment
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after an incomplete pass in the second quarter while taking on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 175878191 ORIG FILE ID: 180426812

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Schadenfreude is in the air. It smells like roasted Patriot.

Not long after Ted Wells released his a 243-page report detailing his opinion that quarterback Tom Brady probably knew his footballs were being purposefully deflated, the hammer fell. Retribution is swift and merciless when the almighty Shield is challenged.

The NFL announced massive penalties for the Patriots—a record $1 million fine, a 2016 first-round pick, a 2017 fourth-round pick, and a four-game suspension for the golden boy. New England fans were naturally shell-shocked and angry, aghast at the heavy-handed punishment in the wake of seemingly weak allegations and flimsy evidence. Patriots haters, meanwhile, basked in the glory of sweet vindication.

Deep down, Patriots fans had to know this was coming. After all, the ghosts of Spygate still roamed Foxboro, haunting fans with glee every playoff failure for head coach Bill Belichick. New England had been down this road before.

The Hoodie caught a $500,000 personal fine for his role in the team’s illegal videotaping activities back in 2007. The Patriots were fined an additional $250,000, and they were docked a first-round pick to boot.

Worse, it tainted the team’s undeniable success. The Patriots couldn’t win the big one without cheating, or so the narrative dictated. Forget the fact they went undefeated that season before losing a shocker to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Never mind the fact they made the postseason in all but one year—the last time Brady missed significant time, a 2008 season when Matt Cassel piloted the team to a 11-5 record that was somehow not good enough for the playoffs—since the sordid affair.

Making it to the Super Bowl is hard enough for most teams. The Patriots have been there three times since the ordeal, but they couldn’t shake Spygate.

One Super Bowl victory should have wiped that narrative clean. The Empire finally struck back, beating the vaunted Seattle Seahawks in thrilling fashion. We should still be talking about that game. Instead, we are here, sitting in the aftermath of another brutal edict from King Roger and his minions, with fiery rebukes cast down from ivory towers, scores of takes burning all around, and angry fan denials in the face of laughter.

Really, though, nobody should be surprised.

Not after the fallout after Spygate. Not after the New Orleans Saints were eviscerated after the bounty scandal.

When head coach Sean Payton’s team put a dent in the Shield after being accused of collecting bounties for big hits on opposing players, the punishment was just as shocking back then. The Saints were fined $500,000 and docked two second-round picks. Payton was banished for a year. Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator reportedly at the heart of it all, was banned indefinitely.

Several players garnered lengthy suspensions, too, though they were ultimately vacated after multiple appeals.

An honest reading of the Ted Wells report on the allegations someone doctored game balls for quarterback Brady and the Patriots leaves plenty to the imagination. But it gives us a mountain of circumstantial evidence—and, yes, it counts as evidence—that paints a damning picture.

How else are we to explain some of the text messages that flew between New England’s scapegoats—equipment man John Jastremski and the self-styled “deflator,” James McNally, who sounds like a mid-level gangster out of The Departed? Why would Brady suddenly be interested in speaking with Jastremski after six months of zero contact?

New England’s overwrought rebuttal makes a valiant effort to answer these questions and discredit the Wells report, but it left many wondering how anyone would believe “The Deflator” was a nickname tied to weight loss more than anything. The massive counterstrike was anything but convincing.

There probably isn’t proof beyond a reasonable doubt that proves anyone guilty of anything, but the burden of proof is substantially different here. We aren’t in criminal or even civil court—the NFL can rule on the information it has and the implications therein.

Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all. There is dot-connecting and dubious science, to be sure, but Occam’s razor seems to apply here—someone got caught pulling shenanigans with footballs to gain some sort of competitive advantage. Perhaps it was intended to fly within the restricted air space that is the NFL rulebook. But we all know the way good intentions paves.

Whatever the case may be, the entire affair is decidedly ridiculous. Does deflating balls actually give New England a tangible advantage? That’s debatable. Did it help the Patriots thump the Indianapolis Colts by 38 points in the AFC Championship game? No. Could this all have been avoided with a simple admission and apology? Probably.

The nature of the offense wasn’t relevant, though—it was the active attempt to circumvent the rules to gain an edge that mattered. It’s why Belichick was levied the biggest fine to an individual in NFL history in 2007.

Even then, the damage would have been mitigated with a mea culpa, or at least an honest attempt to investigate the issue. So why did the NFL borrow Mjölnir to leave Patriots fans thunderstruck?

It’s simple—the Patriots doubled down and thumbed their noses at the league. Worse, they did it knowing what happened eight years ago.

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade) A relationship turned fractious for Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft.

Bob Kraft might have a cozy relationship with commissioner Roger Goodell, but that mattered little when the Patriots owner stood there and demanded an apology from the league in the wake of the accusations. Brady’s infamous and oft-parodied press conference maintaining his plausible deniability and adherence to the rules was no laughing matter to the commissioner’s office.

In the wake of the investigation, Wells revealed New England’s unwillingness to cooperate, from refusal to connect investigators with McNally to Brady’s disinclination to turn over texts from his phone.

Orwellian as this may all be, Brady and the Patriots did themselves no favors by obfuscating and practically daring the NFL to do something.

It was easy to compare this heavy-handed punishment to the light sentences doled out for domestic abusers. A common refrain compared the litany of penalties to the two-game suspension Ray Rice received after punching his then-fiancé, a sentence that would ultimately be extended indefinitely once video of the incident was released.

Even compared to the likes of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy—who was recently handed a 10-game suspension for his alleged domestic assault despite the fact he sat out the entire 2014 season—New England’s plight seems rather excessive. Brady’s folly has all but buried the fact Seattle’s cursory due diligence on Michigan product Frank Clark, whose domestic violence incident gets uglier the more we find out.

Real skullduggery should trump slightly deflated footballs, right?

There is only one problem—the NFL is a moneymaking machine, not a moral institution. So New England’s perceived assault on the integrity of the league became paramount over affronts to humanity and common decency we have seen from individuals.

The Patriots took aim at the Shield instead of women and children.

If we are being honest with ourselves, the league only became concerned with domestic violence when it became a public relations nightmare that could affect the bottom line. It’s no more a moral issue to the suits in New York than whether a player legally smokes weed or an equipment manager takes a needle to a football on purpose.

So we are here, debating the merits of deflated footballs, texts between equipment handlers, and an arbitrary, overreaching punishment that angered some and delighted others.

At least the NFL is in the news again.

The 2015 season might be a circus, but all good shows must come to an end. The hullaballoo will die down, and the Patriots will still be four-time champions with a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm. All the bluster and bombast won’t change history, even if it has become tainted for some.


//

2013 Draft: The Top 100 Drafted

April 24, 2013 Leave a comment

2013-draft-logo-story

Since I have no better place to put this, here are top 100 players who will be drafted, according to me, by position in no particular order. Because I am Lord of the draft. Or entering a contest. Whichever is more plausible.

Quarterback

Geno Smith
Tyler Wilson
Ryan Nassib
Matt Barkley
Zac Dysert
E.J. Manuel
Tyler Bray

 

Wide Receiver

Cordarrelle Patterson
Robert Woods
Tavon Austin
DeAndre Hopkins
Stedman Bailey
Keenan Allen
Justin Hunter
Markus Wheaton
Quinton Patton
Terrance Williams
Marquise Goodwin
Da’RickRogers

 

Running Back

Jonathan Franklin
Giovani Bernard
Eddie Lacy
Marcus Lattimore
Zac Stacy
Joseph Randle
Andre Ellington
Montee Ball
LeVeon Bell

 

Tight End

Tyler Eifert
Travis Kelce
Gavin Escobar
Zach Ertz
Vance McDonald

 

Offensive Tackle

Luke Joeckel
Eric Fisher
Lane Johnson
Terron Armstead
D.J. Fluker
Menelik Watson
Dallas Thomas
Kyle Long
Jordan Mills
David Bkhtiari
Oday Aboushi

 

Offensive Guard

Jonathan Cooper
Chance Warmack
Larry Warford
Justin Pugh
Alvin Bailey
Hugh Thornton

 

Offensive Center

Barrett Jones

 

Interior Defensive Line

Star Lotulelei
Sheldon Richardson
Sharrif Floyd
Sylvester Williams
Johnathan Hankins
Jesse Williams
Datone Jones
Kawann Short
John Jenkins
Brandon Williams

 

Edge Rusher

Tank Carradine
Quanterus Smith
Dion Jordan
Ezekiel Ansah
Bjoern Werner
Barkevious Mingo
Alex Okafor
Damontre Moore
Margus Hunt
Jarvis Johnes
Sam Montgomery
Corey Lemonier
Khaseem Greene

 

Linebacker

Arthur Brown
Manti Te’o
Kevin Minter
Alec Ogletree
Sio Moore
Jamie Collins
Jon Bostic
Nico Johnson

 

Cornerback

Dee Milliner
Xavier Rhodes
Jamar Taylor
Desmond Trufant
D.J. Hayden
Leon McFadden
Johnthan Banks
Jordan Poyer
Darius Slay
Logan Ryan

 

Safety

Kenny Vaccaro
Jonathan Cyprien
D.J. Swearinger
Eric Reid
Matt Elam
Phillip Thomas
Tony Jefferson
Shamarko Thomas

Categories: NFL Tags: , ,

A Short QB Conversation

March 5, 2013 Leave a comment

This week I misread an assignment I got and started writing for it. I was made aware of my mistake before I got too far, but here is what I briefly came up with:

Joe Flacco: Wait for it…

Tom Brady: Here we go.

Matt Ryan: Dude—

Flacco: ELITE!!

Ryan: Come on. You were lucky, and you know it.

Flacco: Lucky? You finally won a playoff game, congrats Matty Light.

Brady: Good one, Unibrow. Did you come up with that insult at the Motel 6 you stayed at for Disney?

Flacco: Ha, ha, very funny. They don’t have Motel 6’s at Euro Disney.

Peyton Manning: Might as well call you Rahim Moore, that should’ve been me beating the snot out of the 49ers.

Brock Osweiler: Hey, Mr. Manning, I took care of that “business” you asked me to do. Nobody will ever know what happened to Moo—

Manning: Not now, numbnuts. How many times do I have to tell you not to bother me in public?

Luck: You realize you have just as many championships as Flacco, right?

Manning: … I will cut you, you usurping son of a—

Tony Romo: Hey guys! Phew, that round of golf was exhausting. Shot a 68. Beat that, suckers.

Brady: Hey, Happy Gilmore, this is a conversation for football players.

Flacco: Trying to figure out to do with all this cash. Thinking about finally upgrading to a new VCR, maybe paying for some basic cable.

Adrian Peterson: Anyone got an orange peanut? I’M OUT, MAN, NEED MY FIX!

Categories: NFL

Tim Tebow is the Tim Tebowest thing to Tebow Ever

November 15, 2012 1 comment

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An Exercise in Hubris: Why Holding the New York Marathon This Weekend Is Wrong

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Originally written for Bleacher Report

Have you ever been through a major hurricane?

The howling wind and the pounding rain are just the beginning. A frightening storm gives way to a horrific aftermath.

Eerie darkness permeates the room at night. With no electricity, candles and flashlights can only do so much. The city is silent.

After Hurricane Andrew, I lay in that haunting atmosphere, wondering if things would ever be the same. We were fortunate in the aftermath of that storm. Our family was safe and sound. My grandmother regained power just a few days later. We had food and water.

Aside from getting a nasty stomach flu, I was insulated from it all. The devastation surrounding us was incomprehensible to me as a child. It seems to be that way to some New Yorkers today in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Despite the ravaging wind and water Sandy brought to New York City this week, Mayor Bloomberg and race organizers have decided to hold the annual New York Marathon.

Why?

The hubris of holding the New York Marathon this weekend is staggering even by New York standards. What is the point of holding an event like this, one that needs a great deal of manpower and hundreds of generators that could be used to help those still without power? What about all that bottled water that could go to families who are forced to drink potentially tainted tap water as they wait for help?

Lisa McGarry, a 42-year-old New Yorker, is running the Marathon this weekend. Here is what she had to say to the NY Daily News:

Running is my outlet. Some people express their emotions and bring people together in difficult times through artistic talents. Some people have skills to help save lives, or to fix infrastructures. But I am a runner. It’s what I know how to do. After September 11, I ran across the Brooklyn Bridge to the WTC daily. Three weeks ago, a friend was killed in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard. It was dealing with that grief that I realized I had to do the only thing I know how to do…run.

can’t fix Staten Island or the Rockaways. The only thing I can do is run. It’s what I can do show support for my city.  To show my support for my friend who died in Afghanistan. This is my city, too. And this is what I do.

I also trust that the city will not put any lives at risk, by holding the marathon. We did it in 2001 while the city was still burning.  The rest of the city is getting back to normal. And I truly think it will bring in business to much needed areas. Lower Manhattan has lost a week of business. I work in SoHo, and haven’t been able to go back to work. I am so grateful that my job is now salaried.  I am sure the stores of Soho will be happy to have all those European tourists back shopping.

Longing for normalcy so soon after this disaster is an incredibly needy sentiment for a city with a reputation for toughness. Yes, they held the Marathon as part of a much-needed catharsis after the events of 9/11, but it was nearly two months after the tragic attack on New York.

Should we hold a race that requires the attention of thousands of officials and volunteers, not to mention countless resources that needy New Yorkers could use right now, because of a misguided plea for normalcy?

It is nice to know Ms. McGarry will get a chance to have an “outlet” along with, perhaps, hundreds of other runners while thousands sit in squalor and darkness just miles away. Perhaps she can lend some of her body heat to those without power as a cold front moves in this weekend.

To be fair, many New Yorkers do not agree with the decision to hold the Marathon. Some runners are boycotting the race, and hotels are turning away others while they house the displaced.

Still, the right thing to do would be to postpone or cancel the race, even at this late stage.

People died in this storm. Houses burned down. Staten Island was still cut off from the rest of the world until today. The subway system could be in shambles. Long Island is a desolate place today, its residents all but abandoned.

But this is New York. The show must go on, casualties be damned.

Aaron Rodgers for MVP

January 2, 2012 1 comment

It seems silly that I feel the urge to campaign for Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s MVP after he had all but wrapped up the award a few weeks ago. Green Bay was in the midst of a run at an undefeated season and Rodgers was the cream of a very good quarterback crop. Here we are, though, with another NFL season fully in the books and Drew Brees improbably closing the gap on the Packers’ quarterback, who narrowly missed an undefeated season. There is no denying the greatness of both of these record-breaking quarterbacks. They are on another level, with Tom Brady and arguably Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning hot on their heels. We witnessed a special season from these two great quarterbacks, and both are more than deserving to be in the MVP conversation. Only one truly deserves the award, though, and I am here to tell you what you should already know: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL MVP.

The main argument for Brees-as-MVP is his obliteration of Dan Marino’s yardage record, and it is a fair one. Brees put the record out of reach, topping Marino’s old mark by nearly 400 yards. That is special — despite the relative ease and propensity to pass around the league nowadays, that is no small accomplishment. The feat is somewhat diminished by the fact that Brady also broke the record, and Stafford joined the duo in the 5,000-yard club, though to what degree is impossible to determine. Rodgers would have joined them as well had he played his team’s final game as well, even though Brees threw the ball many more times than Rodgers.

Even if statistics are everything — and they are not — I believe Rodgers had the more impressive season outside of yardage and traditional completion percentage. Here is a side-by-side comparison (some stats from Pro Football Focus):

At first glance Brees wins the beauty contest — it is hard to argue with the annihilation of the yardage record. Where Rodgers really sets himself apart, though, is his accuracy and efficiency. As I previously alluded to, Brees threw for 837 more yards than Rodgers, but you will note they came on 156 more attempts and one more game. This in no way diminishes Brees’ accomplishment, but it does highlight efficiency differences. The fact Rodgers nearly averaged one full more yard per attempt is subtly impressive. While Brees had a fantastic 71.2% accuracy — another NFL record, in fact — Rodgers completed almost 80% of his passes when removing receiver drops, throw-aways, and spikes, beating out Brees by almost 2%. Again, take into consideration the fact Rodgers had fewer attempts than Brees, which only magnifies the fact his receivers dropped 40 passes. The coup de grâce, however, comes in Rodgers’ record-setting 122.5 NFL rating, which was almost 12 points better than Brees.

To put his statistics into perspective, if Rodgers had thrown 156 more passes to match Brees’ attempt count, he would have thrown for 6,094 yards and 59 touchdowns based on his season yards-per-attempt and touchdown rates. Of course it is unreasonable to assume those numbers would have actually been attained, however this point serves to highlight the efficiency with which Rodgers dissected opposing defenses. Not only did Rodgers shred those defenses, he did it with no semblance of a running game, a drop-happy wide receiving corps, and an offensive line that gave up many more sacks.

Also lending support to Brees, because we tend to have short memories, is the fact that Matt Flynn torched Detroit for 480 yards and 6 TDs, both Packers records. Somehow that has evolved into an example why Rodgers should not win the award, because Flynn made it look easy for Green Bay. The fundamental flaw with this argument is that it is unprovable. What if Flynn is the next great quarterback? What would happen if Chase Daniel played an entire game for the Saints? There is no way to know answers to these questions for last season; Flynn’s great game does not take away from Rodgers’ great season.

Numbers aside, the fact of the matter is Aaron Rodgers nearly led his team to an undefeated season en route to a #1 seed, and he beat Drew Brees in their head-to-head matchup. Rodgers played one less game, which was his and his team’s prerogative, but he earned that with his other-worldly play. The Packers had no running game of note, and they had one of the worst league defenses. The Saints, meanwhile, had the league’s easiest schedule to boot (.441 opponent winning percentage), albeit the Packers’ schedule was not terribly tough. In two of the Saints’ three losses, Brees threw more interceptions than touchdowns; Rodgers did not have one truly bad game.

Both quarterbacks were a joy to watch this year, and again both deserve to be in this conversation. Brees’ gaudy raw numbers make him the best candidate for the Offensive Player of the Year Award. While Rodgers is no longer the “hands down” winner, however, he is still the better choice for MVP. Ask yourself this simple question: if we call the statistical comparison a draw, which can be reasonably argued, then why should Brees win the MVP over Rodgers?

Categories: Football, NFL Tags: , , ,

Money Talks

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Before I get into this, I want to acknowledge that the chances the Jaguars leave Jacksonville are slim — or none, according to some — lest I incur the wrath of their fans. One of the running gags in the NFL is the Jaguars’ inevitable relocation, and Twitter exploded with such jokes (myself included) when news broke that Wayne Weaver was selling the team to Shahid Khan, owner of auto parts maker Flex-N-Gate Corp.

The Jaguars are currently valued at $725 million by Forbes, the lowest in the NFL. Khan paid $760 million for the team in cash — the man is obviously part of the 1%. As part of the purchase agreement, Khan has given his assurances the Jaguars would not be relocated. Indeed, their lease in Jacksonville runs through 2030 and is “ironclad” by all accounts. This did little to quell jokes and speculation about their eventual relocation, though, as sports journalists and fans across the country continue to do so as I type. Do Khan’s assurances and the stadium lease eliminate the possibility the Jaguars will relocate?

Here is the rub: money talks, and Khan clearly knows how to listen. Consider this scenario:

The Jaguars, again, are the lowest-valued NFL team at $725 million, while most of the other teams are valued around or over $1 billion. It is a fair assumption that the team’s value would dramatically increase by merely relocating to the right market like, say, Los Angeles. If the estimated increase would take the team close to or over $1 billion, that would be about a $275 million increase — again, simply for relocating. If broken anytime soon, the Jaguars would supposedly owe the city over $60 million in rent on top of losses from parking, taxes, and other Jaguar-dependent sources of income. I can only guess at what that would all amount to, but I imagine it cannot be much more than $275 million if it even comes close to that number — before researching some of this information, I saw it would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to break that lease, no small amount of money.

From here it seems like simple math: if the franchise value increases by $275 million or so, and it costs that much or less to break their lease in Jacksonville, it seems like Khan would break even, at worst, by simply moving the team to the right market. He certainly has the money to pay to break that lease before he sees the franchise increase in value. Of course, Khan could then look forward to a sharp increase in revenue from the bigger market and fanbase — it is hard to argue the Jaguars can make more money in Jacksonville than Los Angeles. There is the small matter that the L.A. group purportedly wants a significant stake in the team, but this scenario does not have to play out in southern California. (Though, if I were Khan, I would offer 30% of the team to the LA group, immediately recouping any money paid out in Jacksonville exit fees while still retaining a controlling stake in the team.)

I am oversimplifying the situation, of course, but I never claimed to be an expert. I am playing Bill Simmons here — armchair money speculator. Khan seems to be genuinely interested in owning a football team for the right reasons — that is to say, the joy and thrill of owning a team, not just trying to make money. That would be great for the Jaguars and for football. All I am saying is that handshake agreements and ironclad leases are obstacles, but ones that can be overcome if enough money is involved. To me it is a bit naive to say the Jaguars have zero chance of relocating.

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