NEW YORK—A federal judge took a peacemaker’s role Tuesday, urging New England quarterback Tom Brady and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to find common ground to settle differences before he lowers the gavel on a controversy over deflated footballs.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman asked Brady and Goodell to “engage in further good faith settlement efforts” a day before they meet in Manhattan federal court for the first time.
Brady was not at Patriots training camp on Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, the NFL sued its players union, asking Berman to declare that Goodell followed the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association when he suspended Brady for four games after concluding the quarterback had to know balls were purposefully deflated.
The union countersued to block the suspension, saying a June arbitration hearing that Goodell presided over was a sham and Brady was punished severely for something he was never warned about and for which there was no precedent.
Berman directed lawyers, including Brady and Goodell, to update him in private on Wednesday about settlement negotiations a half hour before they appear in court.
Brady Denies All; Goodell Finds Credible Clues
Brady has maintained since the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45–7 in January’s AFC championship game that he never directed anyone to deflate footballs below levels set by the league, and he did not know any ball handlers had done so.
Goodell, in a July 28 decision upholding the four-game suspension, found Brady engaged in “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
He discredited Brady’s claims, citing a 2014 regular season text message from John Jastremski, a Patriots’ assistant equipment employee, to Jim McNally, a game-day employee working in the Official’s Locker Room.
Goodell said Jastremski, during an exchange about the pressure of game balls, said Brady “actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done.”
The commissioner said he concluded that “trying to get them done” referred to tampering with the inflation level of the balls.
He also cited a 2014 text message in which McNally referred to himself as “the deflator,” and he criticized the union for not calling Jastremski or McNally to testify during the suspension appeal.
The NFL investigation concluded that McNally removed Patriots footballs prior to the championship game to a small restroom, where he remained for 1 minutes and 40 seconds, enough time to deflate each ball.
Goodell also found Brady obstructed his investigation by destroying a cellphone containing nearly 10,000 text messages from early November until the day in early March when he was interviewed by attorney Theodore Wells, who led the NFL’s probe. Goodell said he found the destruction “very troubling.”
In court documents, the union’s lawyers said the suspension was unfair and violates the labor contract and complained that it would cause irreparable harm to Brady by forcing him to miss games.
They called the appeals hearing before Goodell “a kangaroo court proceeding, bereft of fundamentally fair procedures.”