Last September, a federal judge overturned the NFL's four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in Deflategate. If you thought that was the end of it you would be sadly mistaken. The league appealed the ruling and on Thursday, three judges from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan questioned lawyers for both Brady and the NFL.
At its core, Deflategate is about whether the Patriots deflated game balls (which are easier to grip, throw and catch, especially in cold weather) and what Brady's role may have been. The NFL spent $2.5 million on the Ted Wells report, which concluded that Brady was "generally aware."
That hardly seemed like compelling evidence that Brady was guilty of any wrongdoing. At least one of the judges from Thursday's hearing disagrees.
“The evidence of the ball tampering here is compelling if not overwhelming. How do we as appellate judges second-guess a four-game suspension?” Judge Denny Chin asked of Brady’s attorney Jeffrey Kessler, via the New York Daily News.
When asked what motivations Goodell would have to implement that punishment, Kessler offered this:
Asked by Chin about Goodell's possible motivations, Kessler says he spent $3m to get a report that said "generally aware."— Max Stendahl (@MaxLaw360) March 3, 2016
There's more. Judge Barrington Parker wondered why Brady would destroy his cell phone.
“Why couldn’t the commissioner suspend Brady for that conduct alone?” Parker said, via the Providence Journal. “You have one of the most celebrated players performing in that fashion? Anybody within 100 yards of this proceeding knew that would raise the stakes.”
When Kessler explained that Brady routinely destroyed his phones, Parker seemed unimpressed, saying that it “made no sense whatsoever.”
Based on various reports coming out of the hearing, Brady's lawyer got the worst of it, though the judges also questioned whether Goodell's punishment was "draconian for a few pounds per square inch," and referred to the commissioner as "judge, juror ... and the enforcer."
Kessler, who's been absolutely brilliant throughout this process, for the first time was not impressive, in my opinion.— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) March 3, 2016
Just got out of court. #Patriots better not trade Garoppolo because Kessler got HAMMERED by the judges— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 3, 2016
Initial impressions: this isn't Judge Berman. All three judges seemed skeptical of Brady's behavior. Much of hearing focused on cell phone.— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) March 3, 2016
TAKEAWAY: Two of the three judges (Parker and Chin) appeared to favor NFL. That's all you need to win. BUT, it's always hard to predict.— Max Stendahl (@MaxLaw360) March 3, 2016
There was no immediate ruling Thursday, though one is expected before the start of the 2016 season. In the meantime, the meter continues to run, and $20 million in legal fees is a real possibility.