ESPN's Outside The Lines investigative team dropped quite the report Tuesday morning, breaking down the New England Patriots from Spygate to Deflategate. The extensive report is a culmination of interviews with 90 league officials, owners, team executives, coaches, staff and players, and a review of numerous private notes from meetings that were previously unpublished. The report is extensive and worth a read when you get some time.
The investigation reveals that some owners viewed Deflategate as a sort of "make-up call" for a perception that the Patriots got a break in the Spygate investigation. The idea is that there is a "long, secret history between Goodell's NFL ... Kraft's Patriots. The diametrically opposed way the inquiries were managed by Goodell -- and, more importantly, perceived by his bosses -- reveals much about how and why NFL punishment is often dispensed."
There is a lot to unpack from the investigation. We've read plenty about Deflategate, but the backstory related to Spygate is fascinating if you did not follow it, or just do not remember much of it. Bill Belichick claimed it was a misinterpretation of a rule, while the league thinks that is hard to swallow. However, while the league handed down an unprecedented punishment, they also seemed to try and cover things up to some extent to "protect the shield."
Eric Mangini was viewed as a centerpiece in the Spygate investigation, and we get some revelations on that from his time with the New York Jets. My favorite line in the Mangini section might be, "Belichick had practically invented Mangini." Here is a quick excerpt from that section"
Mangini knew the Patriots did it (videotaping signals), so he would have three Jets coaches signal in plays: One coach's signal would alert the players to which coach was actually signaling in the play. Still, Mangini saw it as a sign of disrespect that Belichick taped their signals -- "He's pissing in my face," he told a confidant -- and wanted it to end. Before the 2007 opener, sources say, he warned various Patriots staffers, "We know you do this. Don't do it in our house."
The issue with the report is that we are left with a significant amount of hearsay and speculation. Coaches, players and executives from the Rams, Panthers and Eagles all talk about thinking the Patriots were up to something in the three Super Bowl victories.
In the end, a lot of this comes down to perception. If you think the Patriots cheated, this only reinforces it. If you don't think they cheated, you'll just view this as a witch hunt based on speculation and bitter opponents. They can also say cheating in some form since the league first started. The report acknowledges cheating is part of NFL history, and it's part of sports history. We hear all about stealing signs in baseball, spit balls, and so forth. Joe Montana said the 49ers sprayed silicone on their offensive linemen back in the 80s until they were finally caught. Cheating happens.
The bigger issue is the continued incompetency of the NFL when it comes to investigating and punishing teams, players and so forth. The league's general laziness and incompetency is one reason Bill Belichick seemed to feel he could get away with this stuff.
The shared view of Belichick and Adams, according to many who've worked with them, is this: The league is lazy and incompetent, so why not push every boundary?
It is not entirely the same as the league's issue with discipline, but there are some cross-over aspects The league has had problems with discipline and investigations as they relate to players and both on- and off-field transgressions. The league has tried to "protect the shield", and yet somehow manages to just embarrass themselves further with their actions. All we look for is some kind of consistency. Instead, the league doubles down on their behavior and the whole thing just ends up a further mess.