When the 2015 NFL regular season schedule was released, the big news was the kickoff game between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a caveat within the game, as both the Patriots and Steelers would be without their starting running backs due to an incident which stemmed from a DUI incident in August of 2014.
Already without LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell, is it possible there could be another superstar forced to sit out of the game due to league discipline?
After the Wells report was released Wednesday speculation on Tom Brady's knowledge of two Patriots employees who deflated footballs to his specifications certainly leaves a potential punishment open for the 4-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Some think a punishment of missing regular season games is outlandish, but is it?
Look at it this way. The league suspended Greg Hardy 10 games in 2015 for his alleged role in a domestic violence case in 2014. As stated earlier, Le'Veon Bell was suspened 3 games for a DUI and violating the league's substance abuse policy, LeGarrette Blount was suspended one game for also violating the league's substance abuse policy.
All those examples are off field incidents which obviously can be more harmful to themselves and others then deflating footballs, but there is more. Deflating footballs creates a clear advantage on the football field. Would the Indianapolis Colts have won the AFC Championship game if the footballs were deflated for Brady? Probably not, but who knows what would have happened.
There are more concrete examples of punishments of infractions which impacted the game itself. Who can forget 'SpyGate' which had Bill Belichick filming opponent's signals to players on the field, or 'BountyGate' where the New Orleans Saints were caught putting bounty's on players and paying out sums of money if the specific player was taken out of the game. Both of these infractions carried stiff penalties. The Patriots had to suffer the loss of a 2008 first round pick and were fined over $700 thousand dollars. Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year along with Greg Williams for their role in the bounty system which was in place.
How the NFL responds to this will impact more than the season opener against the Steelers, but will draw a line in the sand for how seriously they take organizations who do things which can impact the product on the field and the 'shield'. Fans are already talking about how Patriots owner Bob Kraft has Roger Goodell in his back pocket, but if Goodell wants to save face, in terms of public perception, he does more than just slap a fine on the Patriots and take away a draft pick.
Goodell spoke after 'BountyGate' how "ignorance is not an excuse", and the same could be said in this case. Will Brady be suspended in Week 1 of 2015? If I were a betting man I would bet hard against it, but the league should think long and hard about the perception they are putting out to the public with the ruling they have after the details of the Wells report were released.