Wednesday Quickie directly below (or click here).
The Patriots are cheaters: Please stop using the phrase "violated league rules." The less formal, more accurate way of saying that is: "Cheated."
Cheaters. Yikes. Worst word in sports?
I'm surprised. It's a little like learning your favorite home run hitter uses steroids. Mainly: Why would a team as smart and well-run as the Patriots even NEED to cheat like this?
It remains to be seen whether this was some sort of chronic, recurring theme for the Pats – or even something that "every" team does, but simply never gets caught. Or something epidemic within the Pats organization, specifically.
Given the NFL's CIA-like Security department, you'd think they could go to the original NFL Films game tape and easily spot whether the Pats had employed this type of cheating in other games... say, in any of their Super Bowl victories that came down to a single play, in which stealing signs might have been the difference between winning and losing titles.
I'm not saying the Pats cheated to win their titles, but it certainly calls into question whether everything was on the level when they did. It's at least worth looking at the game tape, isn't it? (Or, Pats fans, are you afraid to see what you'll find?)
After all, if they're willing to brazenly cheat in Week 1, what lengths might a cheater go to to win in a championship game?
(Update: As you'd expect, rival coaches and execs from across the league are coming forward to talk about how this has been a Belichick tactic for years. Hmmm...)
The second-biggest question is: What type of punishment should they receive from the league for cheating? Consider that Roger Goodell has made "Get Tough" his mantra on the players who cheat. What kind of signal would it send if he didn't severely punish the teams who cheat?
The phrase being thrown around is "loss of multiple draft picks." I'm OK with that. But what does that mean? Are we talking about next year's first-rounder here? Second-rounder? Spread over multiple years?
If the punishment is too severe, Goodell is effectively punishing one of the men who employ him (Robert Kraft). If the punishment is too lenient, he makes the cost-benefit of cheating more appealing. This is a far tougher tightrope than the simple "player conduct" or "PED-related" suspensions. (As PFT pointed out: If Wade Wilson was suspended multiple games for using PEDS, what should a cheating head coach get?)
Finally, the usual question in any scandal: "What did Bill Belichick know and when did he know it?"
Given the particularly high level of control Belichick asserts over his team's operations, it seems unrealistic that this was the work of some rogue lackey. (It's the "A Few Good Men" scenario: It would be as if Kiefer Sutherland executed the "Code Red" himself, without Jack Nicholson's original command.)
Belichick's role is the most unseemly aspect of this entire cheating episode. In terms of potential punishments – and given his likely level of control over the cheating operation – a suspension shouldn't be out of the question.
The bottom line is that the entire episode calls into question the NFL's great dynasty of the last decade -- and arguably the greatest coach of all time. Again: Yikes.
But let's please call it what it is: Cheating. And it looks like not just cheating in one instance, but cheating as a recurring and preferred game tactic.
For Belichick, for the NFL and for Pats fans, I think this story gets a lot worse before it gets better.