PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The long-awaited NFL investigation into whether the New England Patriots deliberately deflated footballs last season is finally out, and the findings aren’t kind to the team.
The 243-page report by Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the league, says the evidence he reviewed shows that “it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent those rules.”
The report goes on to say Jim McNally, the Patriots’ Official Locker Room attendant, and John Jastremski, a Patriots equipment assistant, “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls” after a referee had examined them to ensure they were inflated to regulation levels.
The report also says quarterback Tom Brady “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.” It also claims, in 2006, Brady was personally involved in a rule change that allowed visiting teams to prepare game balls to a quarterbacks liking — meaning the four-time champion was familiar with the minimum and maximum PSI levels according to NFL rules. But it clears coach Bill Belichick and team owners of any involvement.
“We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” the report concludes.
In a statement, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft criticized the outcome of the probe. “To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement,” he said, describing the scale of the investigation as “incomprehensible” because the report lacked any so called “smoking gun.”
But, Kraft said, “Knowing that there is no real recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would prove to be futile.”
In his own statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described the Wells report as “a thorough and independent investigation,” and said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president for football operations, will now determine what punishment if any the Patriots will face.
“As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type,” he said.
The controversy over the allegedly deflated footballs exploded in the hours after the Jan. 18 AFC Championship game, when the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts to move on to the Super Bowl. The allegations that the Pats knowingly under-inflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage cast a shadow over the team’s triumphant championship run.
The NFL hired Wells Jan. 23 to conduct an investigation, which took more than three months until the results were released Wednesday.
Among other findings, the report says one of the locker room attendants received two autographed footballs and an autographed game-worn jersey from Brady on Jan. 10, a week before the AFC Championship game.
The report suggests Brady declined to provide emails, text messages and phone records sought by Wells in the course of his investigation, though the quarterback did answer questions. But text messages exchanged by McNally and Jastremski that are published in the report suggest the quarterback took a keen interest in how his footballs were inflated.
“Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a [expletive] balloon,” McNally wrote in a text to Jastremski following an Oct. 17 game against the Jets. “Make sure you blow up the ball to look like a rugby ball so tom can get used to it before sunday,” he wrote in another text on Oct. 21.
Some messages between Brady and Jastremski were retrieved and published in the report. The report showed several messages — sent soon after allegations about deflated footballs surfaced.
“You good Jonny boy?,” Brady said via text. “Still nervous. So far so good though. I’ll be alright,” Jastremski answered.
Brady then said, “you didn’t do anything wrong bud.”
Separately, the reports clears the Patriots of allegations that the team deliberately put a non-approved kicking ball into play, saying it was done so inadvertently.
On Wednesday, fans at Patriot Place had mixed feelings about the recent investigation.
“I teach my kids not to cheat, so I would expect them to do the same thing,” one woman said.
Another disagreed, saying “It’s nonsense. They won. They won fair and square.”
Reporters also caught up with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski Wednesday, who was at a fundraiser in Foxboro for “The Rodman Ride For Kids.” He claimed he had not read the report.
Patriots players will return to Gillette Stadium Thursday for their voluntary workouts.