The New England Patriots are facing steep penalties for their admitted illegal taping of the Bengals sideline last week, league sources said, which is likely to include the loss of at least one draft pick and heavy fines. There is the possibility of a suspension for a member of upper management and/or ownership as well, sources said, pending the results of the NFL's full investigation into the matter.
The Patriots are repeat offenders for violating the league's game-day operations regulations in the past -- twice being stripped of first-round picks for either illegally doctoring footballs or illegally taping an opponent -- which will also factor into the ultimate discipline in this case, the sources said. The NFL takes these matters very seriously and has regularly taken away draft picks and used fines and suspensions for similar infractions, whether it be illegal use of cell phones on game day (Browns) or pumping in fake crowd noise (Falcons).
The league has applied a linear approach to these matters, and that will not be changing in this instance. Executives from numerous NFL teams have voiced their private displeasure with the Patriots' repeated involvement in game-day violations, and the NFL does not direct evidence of intent in order to punish the team, as the Patriots have already admitted in their statement that they are aware their camera crew broke NFL rules last week by having cameras fixed on the field from the Cleveland press box.
The NFL's football operations department will be focused on its investigation this week, and given the Patriots' admission of guilt and the limited number of interviews required, a decision on discipline is not expected to linger for months, as can be the case in many of these issues. Last week, with owners meeting in Dallas, there were other pressing matters to address, which pushed back the inquiry.
The league will want to know why the Patriots only asked for permission of the Browns to send a crew to the press box last week -- for the purposes of doing a video feature story on a New England scout -- but did not notify the Bengals and the league as well. There are questions about who in the Patriots organization was aware of the video shoot, who approved it and why the crew there was not able to follow clearly-defined regulations of what can and cannot be recorded. As has been in the case in other matters in the past, even if top officials claim they were not aware of the improper actions, it ultimately falls under an owner's responsibility.
Bengals representatives stepped in to question the Patriots crew in the press box, sources said, and immediately notified NFL football operations personnel as well. The Bengals have a copy of the roughly eight-minute tape, which sources said head coach Zac Taylor showed to his staff this week so that all would be aware of exactly what the Patriots may have had access to and to make any necessary changes to their signals or protocol ahead of their meeting with New England Sunday.
Bengals team officials are predictably livid over the incident and other teams are watching closely as well to see what degree of discipline is levied. There was considerable chatter among teams about the incident during last week's owner's meetings.