New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL, the league announced Monday.
The team will also lose its first-round draft pick in 2016 and its fourth-round draft pick in 2017.
Team employees James McNally and John Jastremski, at the suggestion of Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, were both suspended indefinitely without pay effective May 6. If either McNally or Jastremski are reinstated by the team, which would require the approval of NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, Jastremski will be prohibited from "having any role in the preparation, supervision, or handling of footballs to be used in NFL games during the 2015 season," the announcement said.
Brady has three days to file his appeal.
The suspension means Brady will miss games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. The first game on the Patriots' 2015 schedule that Brady will be eligible to play in will be on Oct. 18 against the Colts.
After the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game, there were accusations the New England used footballs that were inflated below league requirements.
In a letter to the Patriots, Vincent suggested that the AFC championship game was not the first time that the Patriots had knowingly deflated footballs, citing undisclosed evidence dating back to before the start of the 2014 season. A separate letter from Vincent to Brady that accompanied the NFL's announcement chastised the two-time MVP.
"The [Wells] report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information," Vincent wrote.
"Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question."
Attorney Ted Wells released an investigative report Wednesday into the allegations. The report found that "it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules" and that it is probable that Brady "was at least generally aware of... the release of air from Patriots game balls."
In a previously scheduled appearance Thursday night at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., Brady largely deflected questions about the report, saying it did not "taint" the Patriots' Super Bowl XLIX victory.
At a press conference in January, Brady said he "didn't alter the balls in any way" and "would never have someone do something that was outside the rules."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was shocked to hear about the Deflategate controversy and initially had no explanation for the under-inflated footballs. He later posited that the difference between atmospheric conditions on the field and in the locker room could be to blame. He also floated the idea that rubbing the footballs could alter their pressure levels. Belichick's theories were disputed by representatives from Wilson, the NFL's football manufacturer, and scientist Bill Nye.
The league launched the investigation into Deflategate in January and interviewed Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties, as well as New England players after the Super Bowl. The NFL also obtained evidence in the form of video and other electronic information.
"When I addressed the media at the Super Bowl on January 26—over 14 weeks ago—I stated that I unconditionally believed that the New England Patriots had done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of the NFL rules and that I was disappointed in the way the league handled the initial investigation," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement after the Wells report was released. "That sentiment has not changed."
- Chris Johnson and Will Green