Tom Brady appealed his four-game suspension for his role in using deflated footballs during the AFC championship game, and the players union urged Commissioner Roger Goodell to appoint a neutral arbitrator to hear the case.
The expected appeal was filed by the NFL Players Association on Thursday about an hour before a 4 p.m. deadline. The league's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that it will be decided by Goodell or a person he designates.
"Given the NFL's history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal," the union said in a news release, without detailing specifics.
The NFL announced Brady's suspension Monday, and fined the New England Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks.
Brady's appeal only deals with the suspension and must be heard within 10 days. The team has not said if it will appeal its penalties before a deadline May 21. The lost draft picks include a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-rounder in 2017.
League-appointed investigator Ted Wells found that Brady was "at least generally aware" of plans by two team employees to prepare the balls to his liking, below the league-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.
In a 20,000-word rebuttal to the league's findings published Thursday, a Patriots lawyer disputed the conclusions on matters of science, logic and law. Team attorney Daniel Goldberg said the "deflator" nickname used by a ball boy and cited in the discipline was about weight loss, not footballs.
The two employees used the term jokingly to refer to locker-room attendant Jim McNally, who was trying to lose weight, Goldberg said.
Goldberg represented the team and was present during all of the interviews of team personnel. Patriots spokesman Stacey James confirmed that the website wellsreportcontext.com was genuine and "approved/supported by the team."
Goldberg's response claims that the league's conclusions are "at best, incomplete, incorrect and lack context."
It denied a link between Brady and the two equipment staffers, and it rejected Wells' claims that the team was not cooperative in the investigation. Wells said the team refused to make McNally available for a follow-up interview; Goldberg said the league should have asked all of its questions the first time.
Among the claims in the response were that Wells ignored an innocuous scientific explanation for the loss of air pressure in the footballs used in the game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The rebuttal includes claims of other incidents of ball-tampering that were not dealt with as harshly. And it says increased communication between Brady and the ball boys after the scandal broke were just normal expressions of concern, rather than evidence of the quarterback's guilt.
•Vikings defensive end Brian Robison suffered a pectoral injury while working out at Winter Park on Thursday. Robison said in a text message that "I'll be OK," but didn't elaborate on the extent of the injury. Medical tests were pending.
Robison, 32, has been a full-time starter for the Vikings the past four seasons, playing and starting in 63 of a possible 64 games.
•The Falcons added a possible new starter to their offensive line by signing former Redskins tackle Tyler Polumbus. The 6-8, 308-pound Polumbus started 42 of his 47 games during four years with the Redskins.