The NFL is likely to penalize the New England Patriots for their admitted violation of league video policy last weekend and is contemplating disciplinary measures in line with those imposed on teams in recent seasons for infractions of game-day rules, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
That could mean a fine in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially the loss or reduction in value of a draft choice, typically a lower-level pick.
Among the precedents cited by one person with knowledge of recent discussions: the lowest fine was the $150,000 sanction imposed on the New York Giants in 2016 for Coach Ben McAdoo’s improper use of a walkie-talkie on the sideline during a game.
Most other fines for game-day violations by teams fell between that and the $350,000 penalty given to the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 for pumping artificial crowd noise into their stadium during games. The one outlier, in terms of severity, was the $1 million fine given to the Patriots in 2015 in the Deflategate case. The Patriots also were stripped of first- and fourth-round draft choices and quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for four games for his role, the NFL concluded, in improperly under-inflating footballs. Other cases with more modest penalties involved the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots’ Deflategate penalty is the exception in the cases cited as precedents being studied by the league, and the NFL still does not seem to regard the evidence in this case as being as severe or as voluminous as that in the Spygate case with the Patriots in 2007.
The league has been “consistent on game-day violations” and that is likely to continue in this case, said one of the people familiar with the deliberations.
The NFL’s investigation is not complete and the penalties are not yet firmly set, however. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league leaders left last week’s owners’ meetings in Dallas and, rather than returning to New York, participated in labor negotiations with representatives of the NFL Players Association late in the week.
The deliberations on the Patriots case were expected to resume Sunday and could intensify early in the workweek. It’s not clear exactly when the NFL will make its decision and announce penalties, but the league is hopeful resolution soon.
The Patriots acknowledged that they violated league video policy last Sunday in Cleveland when a video crew working for them shot footage of the field and the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during the Bengals’ game against the Browns. The Patriots said the video crew unknowingly violated the rule while shooting an online feature on a scout for the team. Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have said their football operations department did not benefit from the footage and was not involved in the incident.
The Patriots face the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.
The NFL fined Belichick and the Patriots a total of $750,000 and stripped the team of a first-round draft choice in 2007 in the Spygate case, in which the team improperly videotaped opposing coaching signals.
It does not appear that the NFL is targeting Belichick or any members of the Patriots’ football staff for punishment in this case. One person familiar with the deliberations said the Patriots “acknowledged the violation” but suggested that no individual members of the organization are being viewed as repeat offenders under the sport’s competitive rules in this case.
Three of the cases cited as precedents came in 2015. The Falcons, in addition to their $350,000 fine in the crowd-noise case, were stripped of a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft and their team president, Rich McKay, was suspended from the league’s competition committee for three months.
The Browns were fined $250,000 that year for General Manager Ray Farmer using a cellphone to send in-game text messages to the team’s coaches during the 2014 season. Farmer was suspended four games.
Brady and the NFLPA contested his four-game suspension in the Deflategate case in federal court but the league eventually prevailed and Brady served the suspension.
McAdoo was fined $50,000, in addition to the Giants’ $150,000 fine, in 2016 for his use of a walkie-talkie on the sideline to replace a malfunctioning communications system during a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants’ fourth-round draft pick in 2017 was dropped to the end of that round.
The Ravens were fined $200,000 in 2018 for having multiple players simultaneously on the field during the preseason with coach-to-player radio headsets in their helmets.
Goodell said at a news conference Wednesday at the conclusion of the owners’ meeting in Irving, Texas, that the Patriots’ videotaping history was a factor in this investigation. But the main factor, he said, is the evidence in this case.
“We’re going to be thorough,” Goodell said Wednesday. “We’re going to get all the facts and we’ll go from there.”