Tom Brady and the players' union are headed to a legal clash with the NFL over Deflategate after Commissioner Roger Goodell rejected Brady's appeal Tuesday and upheld the four-game suspension of the New England Patriots quarterback and reigning Super Bowl MVP.
Recent settlement deliberations between the league and the NFL Players Association failed to produce a compromise, and several people connected to the process said the NFLPA now plans to move swiftly to attempt to have Brady's suspension overturned in court.
Brady gave the union his approval later Tuesday for a lawsuit to be filed on his behalf, according to a person familiar with the situation. Another person connected to the case had said earlier that the union was "ready to go once [Brady] gives the go-ahead."
Goodell kept the suspension intact after hearing Brady's appeal, and revealed Tuesday the league had learned Brady had directed that his cellphone be destroyed shortly before meeting with the NFL's investigators in March.
"The evidence fully supports my findings that (1) Mr. Brady participated in a scheme to tamper with the game balls after they had been approved by the game officials for use in the AFC Championship Game and (2) Mr. Brady willfully obstructed the investigation by, among other things, affirmatively arranging for destruction of his cellphone knowing that it contained potentially relevant information that had been requested by the investigators," Goodell wrote in his ruling. "All of this indisputably constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football."
Goodell wrote he "entered into the appeal process open to re-evaluating my assessment of Mr. Brady's conduct and the associated discipline."
But he concluded: "Notwithstanding my enormous respect for his accomplishments on the field and for his contributions and role in the community, I find that, with respect to the game balls used in the AFC Championship Game and the subsequent investigation, Mr. Brady engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football."
Brady's agent, Don Yee, criticized Goodell's ruling and the NFL appeal process in a strongly worded written statement. Yee said Goodell's decision "is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness. … The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision."
Yee said Brady and his representatives "presented the Commissioner with an unprecedented amount of electronic data, all of which is incontrovertible. I do not think that any private citizen would have agreed to provide anyone with the amount of information that Tom was willing to reveal to the Commissioner. Tom was completely transparent. All of the electronic information was ignored; we don't know why."
Added Yee: "The Commissioner's decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history. His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game."
The Patriots, in a statement, said it was "incomprehensible why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players."
People familiar with the case expect the union's lawsuit on Brady's behalf to be filed either in Massachusetts or in Minnesota. The league and union have a long history in federal court in Minneapolis. The NFLPA could seek an injunction that would restore Brady's eligibility to play while the case proceeds in court.
The NFL made the first legal move Tuesday, filing a case in New York to attempt to have the suspension affirmed.
The league and union explored the possibility of a negotiated settlement of Brady's appeal that would have kept the two sides out of court, according to people familiar with the case. But it did not appear much progress was made. The union did not appear willing to agree to a suspension of any length for Brady, and the league maintained that a significant suspension was necessary.