On Thursday, March 3rd, a three-judge panel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear oral arguments in the “DeflateGate” case. Remember that back last spring, Roger Goodell heard testimony from various witnesses, including Tom Brady, about the scandal. Goodell ruled that Brady had violated league rules and suspended him for the first four games of the 2015 season. Brady then appealed Goodell’s ruling to the Federal District Court in New York City. Just before the season started, the judge ruled that Goodell’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The judge reversed Brady’s suspension and Tom “Terrific” started all of his games last year (except for the Super Bowl because the Broncos stomped the Patriots in the AFC Championship game). During the season, the NFL appealed the District Court’s ruling to the Second Circuit appellate court. As mentioned, oral arguments are today!
So now what? Oral arguments will commence at 2pm (EST). The arguments are short. Each side only gets 15 minutes apiece to argue its side. No witnesses are called, and the ins and outs of air pressure, the Ideal Gas Law, etc., will not be debated. The only question is whether Goodell overstepped his bounds (and acted arbitrarily) in making his ruling to suspend Brady for four games. It is highly unlikely that Brady (or Goodell) will show up for the hearing. Outside the courthouse will likely be another media frenzy, and Brady has no need to run that gantlet.
Once oral arguments finish, the judges will likely take several months to issue a ruling. Assuming a ruling comes down in June or July, one of several things can happen. If the judges affirm the District Court’s ruling that Goodell’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, that means that Brady’s punishment will once again be annulled. In other words, he’ll face no suspension. In that case, the NFL can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given that the Supreme Court generally accepts only about 2% of cases filed with it, and given that this case doesn’t present any cataclysmic issue of law that the Supreme Court needs to address, it is extremely unlikely that the Supreme Court would take the case. We would find out sometime later in the summer whether the Supreme Court has agreed to take the case. Assuming it doesn’t take the case, that would be the end of the road. The NFL would lose. Brady would win. And there would be no suspension.
But if the Appellate Court overturns the lower court ruling, Brady’s suspension could be back on, or the Appellate Court could order Goodell to have another hearing and make a new ruling on Brady’s punishment. Either way, Brady would probably appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (and seek a stay of the suspension). The Supreme Court would likely decide during the summer whether to take the case. Again, because this case presents no crucial question that the Supreme Court needs to decide, the Supreme Court almost certainly won’t take it. That means that sometime during the summer, Brady might face a new hearing with Goodell or the four-game suspension could be reinstated.
Our best guess: The Appellate Court reverses the District Court’s ruling and sends the case back to Goodell for a new hearing in August (during training camp). Goodell issues his ruling in late September, suspending Brady for two games in October. Brady doesn’t fight it, and Jimmy Garoppolo shines. Brady is benched and the Garoppolo era begins. Brady is traded to the Jaguars for the 2017 season and rides the pine all year, washing out of the league in 2018.