The rather murky saga called Spygate has now stretched on for six months and a day since it surfaced Sept. 10. A half-year is probably more than enough shelf life for a story that, strangely enough, has at times been vastly over-dramatized in terms of its significance and vastly underestimated in terms of its staying power.
Sure, Watergate lasted longer, but it was, after all, a tad more important in the grand scheme of things. We think.
With the news that the NFL and ex-Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh are nearing an agreement that would allow Walsh to tell what he knows about New England's videotaping practices circa 2000-02, two things could happen. Either we're going to get one last big blaze of headlines from whatever smoking gun he's been hinting at for more than a month, or the story is going to finally start dying for a lack of oxygen, with no new shock-value revelations in store. Either way, it's almost over.
For the record, our reading of the available tea leaves certainly doesn't portend the story ending with Walsh producing an illegal tape that shows the St. Louis Rams in the midst of their walk-through preparations for Super Bowl XXXVI against the Patriots in February 2002.
That tape might or might not have ever existed. I don't get the sense that the NFL thinks Walsh has it, not from what league spokesman Greg Aiello, after more than a month of the league's negotiations with Walsh's attorneys, told the Boston Globe this past weekend. "We have not been able to find evidence that there is a walk-through tape," he said, "but we are interested in hearing what Matt Walsh has to share with us.''
The NFL desperately doesn't want to again appear to be in the dark about any facet of Spygate, as was the case when it acknowledged that Walsh had not been interviewed in the initial investigation last September. So if the league felt there was even a remote chance that Walsh has such a damaging tape, it doesn't stand to reason that Aiello would be offering on-the-record comments that cast doubt on its existence, setting up the NFL for a potential blindsiding.
The other factor that leads me to believe that no 2002 Super Bowl walk-through tape is forthcoming from Walsh is the vehemence of the denial that came from Patriots coach Bill Belichick last month in the Globe. You can believe Belichick is the evil genius if you care to, but that doesn't make him dumb. To come out with blanket statements saying he has never even seen or filmed another team's walk-through practice strikes me as an incredibly short-sighted and foolhardy move if you're even minutely worried Walsh has the very proof needed to nail you to the wall.
Even if yours is the most cynical view of Belichick, and you are convinced he believes he is somehow above the rules, why would he, in the course of his obvious attempt at damage control, hand Walsh such an ideal opportunity to prove him a bald-faced liar? And that after holding his tongue on the matter for the previous five months? It doesn't pass my sniff test.
As for one more potential Spygate scenario that has been floated, I'm equally dubious of the notion that the Patriots could claim they never authorized Walsh to shoot any Super Bowl walk-through and that he must have acted on his own as a renegade video assistant trying to help the cause. Despite what may be circumstantial evidence that points to Walsh acting alone, the reality is if there's a tape shot with a Patriots-owned camera, New England and Belichick will stand guilty as charged in the court of public opinion, and you can expect momentum to build for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hand down a suspension for the coach and severe penalties for the team. You'll never convince the conspiracy theory-loving masses that such a tape was all the doing of a lone shooter (video in this case).
While a Belichick suspension and further penalties to the team would keep the story alive in some respects, the ending of the saga would actually already be in place, with a countdown clock started. No more news would be forthcoming.
Soon enough it appears we'll know what Walsh has to say and what his evidence is. The mystery that has loomed over this story will be revealed. If Walsh largely has just tapes showing the Patriots videotaped the signals of opposing coaches in regular-season games from 2000-02, in which they missed the playoffs twice in three years, that's in line with what Belichick has already acknowledged to Goodell. That will elicit no further punishment from the league, and will serve as the likely final headline in this whole messy affair. Even Sen. Arlen Specter might be muted.
One way or another, it's almost time to move on and put Spygate in the rearview mirror. Let's hear what Walsh has, digest it and debate what it all means. We still don't know this story's eventual outcome for certain, but I am glad that the end finally appears to be in sight.
• The near-dormant Redskins are going to get a visit Wednesday from free-agent Seahawks receiver D.J. Hackett, and he makes sense for Washington on a number of fronts. First off, of course, new Redskins head coach Jim Zorn was Seattle's quarterbacks coach and thus is very familiar with Hackett's game.
Secondly, so are the Redskins, thanks to Hackett's six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's 35-14 conquest of Washington in the first round of the NFC playoffs in January.
When you factor in the Redskins' desire to transition to bigger receivers -- Hackett is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds -- it would appear a marriage waiting to happen if the financial end can be worked out.
As I've pointed out before, Hackett is one of the most attractive remaining free agents in a market that is already painfully shallow. He played in only six games last year due to a lingering ankle injury, but caught 32 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Those totals project to a more than serviceable 85 receptions for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns had he played in all 16 games.
• On the theory that everyone deserves a second and a third chance, the Giants are kicking the tires on signing David Carr as their sought-after upgrade at backup quarterback behind Eli Manning. I know Giants quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer was Carr's offensive coordinator in Houston from 2002 to '05, but I'm not sure there's a bigger reclamation job in the NFL right now than Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.
Carr made four starts and appeared in six games in Carolina last year, where he started the season as Jake Delhomme's backup. But in the end, he couldn't hold off either 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde or rookie Matt Moore, an undrafted collegiate free agent. Panthers coach John Fox acknowledged that he wouldn't play Carr at home late in the season due to the ferocious booing that the former Fresno State quarterback was subjected to.
Having seen Todd Collins, Cleo Lemon and Trent Green all sign elsewhere after the Giants expressed interest in them, New York is already down to shopping in Carr's market. Kind of a surprising turn of events for the defending Super Bowl champs.
• With Warrick Dunn returning to Tampa Bay, Tatum Bell staying put in Detroit, DeShaun Foster jumping to San Francisco, Michael Turner landing in Atlanta and Justin Fargas re-upping in Oakland, there's not going to be a long list of teams that make sense as a possible suitor of Shaun Alexander once Seattle does the expected and cuts him loose.
With the Seahawks having signed both Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in free agency the past two weeks, with Maurice Morris still on hand, somebody's leaving Seattle. The obvious choice is Alexander, who has a $6.77 million salary cap number in 2008, and gained an underwhelming 718 yards last season.
Off the top of my head, teams that might have room and/or interest in adding Alexander include Chicago, Houston, Carolina, Denver, Philadelphia and maybe Dallas, if the Cowboys don't draft anyone to replace the departed Jones.
• This is turning out to be the NFL's offseason of reunion. To recap, Warrick Dunn is once again a Buccaneer. Trent Green is wearing Rams horns once more. Jevon Kearse and the Titans got back together. Marty Booker is a Bear again. And Muhsin Muhammad re-signed with Carolina.
Am I missing anyone? So what's it going to be, Takeo Spikes? You re-joining Cincinnati or Buffalo?
• I love it. After almost three years of constant media speculation on the topic, Brett Favre finally announced his retirement last week. About 10 minutes later came a wave of media speculation that he'll never stay retired. Could you blame Favre if he goes absolutely nuts the next time a pundit opens his or her mouth?