How/when NFL rules on Patriots videotaping incident will be interesting

Ryan Hannable
December 12, 2019 - 6:00 am

By now, everyone knows what happened.

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On Sunday, the Patriots’ content team sent a three-person video crew, which included two independent contractors, to Cleveland for the Browns-Bengals game to follow an advance scout for an upcoming feature of “Do Your Job.” Part of that was to capture what he does during a game from the press box, and that is to focus on the sideline of the upcoming opponent.

In this instance, it was the Bengals and in order to capture what the scout sees, video was shot of the Bengals' sideline for the first quarter. Members of the Bengals in the press box got very suspicious and alerted executives and then NFL Security. The memory card was turned over and kicked off the NFL’s investigation.

Then on Monday, the Patriots released a statement explaining everything that happened, noting the football staff had no involvement whatsoever, and the organization was taking full responsibly.

“The football team, the football staff and the coaching staff had nothing to do with what happened. Nothing,” Bill Belichick reiterated on Wednesday. “So, we have no involvement in it.”

Coincidentally, this week was the NFL winter meetings in Texas where all key league figures gathered, and this incident was obviously a major topic. Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to reporters Wednesday as the meeting wrapped up and gave no timeline on the investigation reaching a conclusion.

Goodell did say the Patriots’ past issues with videotaping (Spygate) would play a factor, but the most recent information with this case would be key.

“Of course that is a factor," he said. "But I think the key things are the new information that we have -- that information we obviously already had. I think the issue is what information do we have from this incident."

So, really all that is left is the punishment, and how/when the NFL rules will be very interesting on a number of levels.

First off, it appeared a ruling would come down relatively quickly given all the evidence was with the NFL, but then Goodell wouldn’t even commit to a ruling coming by the end of the year when speaking Wednesday. That could just be the way Goodell talks, but it seems like the league needs to rule before Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bengals.

If it doesn’t, it leaves the door open for the public to say the Patriots had inside information and a potential win, or even just big plays in the game, could be discounted because of what happened. Waiting so long to rule keeps the story in the news, and that is last thing the Patriots and NFL want.

Also, the longer the league waits, it would seem the more likely it is for it all to be botched.

One of the biggest issues with the Spygate case was, even though the penalty came very quickly, the video was not made public, and in fact it was destroyed. It is in the league’s best interest to learn from that mistake and make the video public. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the full length, but just a minute or two and then some explanation of what else was shot.

Given the league’s history, transparency needs to happen.

As for what the penalty is, it’s tricky. If the league comes down hard, the public could then believe that what the Patriots did was a big deal, when in reality it is not (even members of the league reportedly are trending to believe that). But on the flip side, if a penalty isn’t harsh enough, the public could get on the league for not punishing the Pariots enough, especially given their history.

From a league perspective, from everything that’s been reported, the only team really upset with what happened is the Bengals, who were the ones who made it into such a big deal through a few leaks Monday. It is not like Deflategate or Spygate where some wanted Goodell and the NFL to throw the book at the Patriots.

The league needs to rule somewhere in the middle between coming down hard and letting the team off easy. While it was an innocent mistake, the organization did break a rule and is a repeat offender.

There’s no question a fine is coming, and it’s likely it won’t be a small one. After all, just a few weeks back following the Browns-Steelers brawl, each team was fined $250,000. A significant amount of money is likely going to issued, and then the question becomes what about a draft pick? 

And that is where it gets tricky because it would impact the football side of things when that area was not involved at all. But, just a fine may be viewed as coming down too easy. Certainly, it would not be a high draft pick, but a late-round pick is not totally out of the question.

A lot of eyes will be on how the NFL handles this case, so it needs to be fair and most importantly transparent.

But will it? Only time will tell.

Related: Report: Robert Kraft met with Roger Goodell Wednesday for semi-private meeting