Patriots' lawyers say Wells Report's conclusions 'incorrect and lack context'
Attorneys for the New England Patriots issued a lengthy, impassioned response to the Deflategate investigation that determined it was "more probable than not" that the team, notably quarterback Tom Brady, played with under-inflated footballs in January's AFC Championship Game.
In bold, capitalized letters, the rebuttal written by lawyer Daniel Goldberg, whose firm represents the Patriots, addressed many of the more damning pieces of the report issued last week by Ted Wells and his investigators, who were hired by the NFL to probe the matter. On Monday, the NFL slapped Brady with a four-game suspension, docked the team two future draft picks, including next year's first rounder, and fined the franchise $1 million.
Much of Goldberg's response focuses on science — specifically the Ideal Gas Law — errors by the NFL officiating crew who worked the AFC title game between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, and circumstantial evidence used by Wells to determine Brady's guilt.
"The conclusions of the Wells Report are, at best, incomplete, incorrect and lack context," Goldberg wrote.
Brady appealed his suspension Thursday. Expect today's response from the New England legal team to provide a glimpse to some of the arguments the two-time MVP's lawyers — as well as those from the NFL Players Association — might make.
The Patriots have until May 21 to file their own appeal of the fine and loss of draft picks.
Tuesday, Wells, who has been retained by the NFL multiple times, angrily responded to criticism of his integrity by Brady's agent, Don Yee. In a media conference call, Wells laid out details of his investigation and said he believed text messages between the two low-level employees responsible for ball preparation on Brady's behalf to be "direct evidence" of the quarterbacks' role.
That was among the issues Goldberg tackled in his response. He wrote that Wells' conclusion about Brady's guilt — that the quarterback was likely "generally aware" of a plan to deflate the footballs — was without merit. Goldberg said Wells' interpretation of text messages between team employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski was "speculative" and was not proof that Brady wanted his footballs to be filled to less than 12.5 psi.
"And yet," Goldberg stated, "NOT A SINGLE TEXT REFERS TO DEFLATING FOOTBALLS TO A LEVEL BELOW REGULATION, TO DEFLATING FOOTBALLS AFTER THE REFEREE'S INSPECTION, OR TO ANY DIRECTIONS FROM MR. BRADY — OR EVEN ANY BELIEF THAT TOM BRADY WOULD PREFER TO USE BELOW REGULATION FOOTBALLS."
More points laid out from the website wellsreportcontext.com:
— The report further tries to explain McNally's text message reference to himself as "The deflator" as his own joke about attempting to lose weight. It supplied additional text messages between McNally, who worked as a game-day locker room attendant, and Jastremski, that were not initially revealed in Wells' report. Wells earlier this week said the Patriots denied to make McNally available for a second interview after Wells discovered some of the more incriminating text messages. Both Wells and Jastremski were suspended without pay by the Patriots following the release of the Wells report last week.
— Goldberg spent plenty of time focusing on the way the air pressure was measured before and during the AFC Championship Game, and which air gauge was used. He wrote that one of the gauges (the Logo gauge), used before kickoff, consistently produced a higher reading. The other gauge (the non-Logo gauge), which produced a lower reading, was used to measure the balls at halftime. "The most fundamental issue in this matter is: DOES SCIENCE EXPLAIN THE LOSS OF PSI IN THE PATRIOTS FOOTBALLS?" Goldberg wrote. "That issue turns on what psi numbers are used for the psi levels pre-game and at halftime. Those numbers will show the amount of lost psi. Given the gauges varied from each other, the only relevant halftime psi measurements are those shown by the gauge that was used pre-game."
— Goldberg contends game officials were to blame for McNally taking custody of the bag of balls before the game, which is against a rule that states officials must maintain control of the balls once they are examined. Goldberg wrote that many people saw McNally leave with the balls, and no one stopped him. "In short, if officials lost track of the location of game footballs, it was not because Mr. McNally stealthily removed them," Goldberg wrote. "Mr. McNally's removal of the footballs from the Officials' Locker Room before the game began was simply not unauthorized, unknown, unusual, or in violation of some protocol or instruction. The report nonetheless portrays Mr. McNally's departure from the Officials' Locker Room before the game as a step in secretly taking the footballs for nefarious reasons."
— Goldberg accuses the NFL of ignoring science as a reason that the Patriots' footballs could have lost air pressure. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick used scientific principles in January to explain what might have happened before and during the game. "Using Ideal Gas Law calculations, footballs set pre-game in 71 degree indoor temperatures at the high end of the Rule 2 range — 13.5 psi — will drop below 12.5 when the outside temperature is at or below 52 degrees. It is safe to assume that countless NFL games have therefore used below-regulation footballs — and no one has even noticed," he wrote.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones