The ruling, handed down by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman on Thursday morning, nullified the four-game suspension levied against the Patriots quarterback back on May 11 when Ted Wells, an independent investigator hired by the NFL, asserted Brady’s connection to deflated footballs used in the AFC Championship Game this past season. Goodell upheld that four-game suspension upon review.
The decision came after multiple attempts at settlement between Brady, his council, the NFL Players Association and the NFL. On Monday, Berman dismissed both sides after just a few minutes after realizing they were too far apart to reach a settlement.
Goodell later announced the league would appeal the decision.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today’s decision. We will appeal today’s ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game,” Goodell wrote. “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.”
According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the league will not seek a stay to keep Brady off the field under its appeal.
Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft also weighed in to celebrate his quarterback’s victory in court:
“As I have said during this process and throughout his Patriots career, Tom Brady is a classy person of the highest integrity. He represents everything that is great about this game and this league. 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.”
The NFLPA, which aided in Brady’s defense, released the following statement:
“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.
“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.”
One of Berman’s key points was that Brady did not receive the proper advance notice to be disciplined by the NFL and information of the kind of penalties he could receive.
Per Berman: “The Court finds that no player alleged or found to have had a general awareness of the inappropriate ball deflation activities of others or who allegedly schemed with others to let air out of footballs in a championship game and also had not cooperated in an ensuing investigation, reasonably could be on notice that their discipline would (or should) be the same as applied to a player who violated the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.”
In his 40-page decision, Berman mentioned the league’s improper denial of Brady’s right to cross-examine NFL general council Jeff Pash, who was a co-lead investigator along with Wells. Because Pash was able to “review a draft of the Wells Report” and provide written comments and edits, it would have been in Brady’s best interest to question him. The NFL opted not to on the grounds that Pash provided no substantive role in the Wells Report findings and that any edits or comments he made had no impact on the final result.
Per Berman: “It is logical that he would have valuable insight into the course and outcome of the Investigation and into the drafting and content of the Wells Report. It is also problematic to the Court that there was no specification by Goodell as to the ways Pash’s testimony would have been ‘cumulative.'”
The ruling could be looked at as an indictment on the lack of uniform punishment across the league. The NFL’s use of the steroid policy to provide a comparable notice of discipline or even length of suspension did not go over well. Also, Berman seemed to side with Brady’s point when it comes to prior infractions for equipment tampering. A ball-warming issue by the Carolina Panthers was said not to be comparable by the NFL because there was no effort to conceal the act. However, Brady’s team argued that the outcome in the Panthers case — a warning sent to the club without any punishment or investigation — was the precedent set under the Competitive Integrity Policy.
Eliminating Brady’s suspension saves Patriots head coach Bill Belichick from dealing with the largest statistical drop off between starting quarterbacks in consecutive seasons since 1950. It also saves him from using another starter besides Brady for the first time since 2008, when Brady tore his ACL in the season-opener.
The ruling is a clear victory for Brady, who had considered accepting a one-game suspension according to Rapoport. But Brady did not want to accept any responsibility for the findings of the Wells Report, and in the end he didn’t have to.
The defending Super Bowl champions can now put yet another difficult offseason behind them.