NFL upholds Tom Brady's suspension for his role in Deflategate

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game was upheld Tuesday by commissioner Roger Goodell.

In announcing the decision, Goodell cited new evidence that emerged: On or shortly before March 6 -- the day Brady was interviewed by Ted Wells and his investigative team -- Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone he had been using since early November 2014, a period that included the AFC title game against the Colts and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation.

The NFL said in Tuesday's statement that Brady destroyed the phone even though he was aware that investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on the phone.

According to the NFL, during the four months the cellphone was in use, Brady sent and received nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved. At the time he arranged for its destruction, Brady knew that Wells and his team had asked for information from the cellphone.

Despite repeated requests for information from the phone, the fact that Brady destroyed the phone was not disclosed to the NFL until June 18 and was not confirmed until the day of Brady's appeal hearing on June 23.

During his appeal hearing, the NFL says Brady said it was his practice to destroy his cellphone and SIM cards when he gets a new cellphone.

Goodell said in the league's statement that Brady "went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the scheme." Based on Wells' report and the evidence presented at that hearing, Goodell also said that Brady was aware of, and took steps to support, the actions of other team employees to deflate game footballs below the levels allowed under NFL rules.

During settlement talks, the union requested that the record of Brady's appeal be sealed so that, in the NFL's opinion, the information that Brady destroyed his cellphone would not become public, a league official tells ESPN. The NFL declined to do so.

The league and Brady's representatives had engaged in settlement talks but couldn't find common ground, which wasn't a surprise.

The NFL told Brady that if he acknowledged that two Patriots equipment men were doing something illegal, and if he acknowledged that he didn't cooperate with the league, the NFL would be willing to reduce his suspension to two or maybe even one game, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Brady declined to agree to the offer, which as one source said, "tells you how Tom feels about this case."

Brady, according to sources, remains adamant that he will fight a suspension for as long as he can, and that any punishment must specify that it's for failing to cooperate with an NFL investigation and not for breaking rules with footballs.

"The Commissioner's decision is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness," Brady's agent, Don Yee, said Tuesday. "Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred. The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision."

The NFL, meanwhile, filed suit in Manhattan on Tuesday to confirm Brady's suspension, but a source told Schefter that the matter of procedure is "no big deal."

The NFL Players Association's position is that the filing won't affect anything, the source said. "What it really does is show how scared [the NFL is] of the case and know how weak they are legally," the source said.

Brady, as he regularly does at this time of year, arrived early for training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday. While Patriots veterans don't report until Wednesday, NFL rules state that quarterbacks and players returning from injuries can be required to report earlier.

Coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Wednesday. All other Patriots players are supposed to report to camp by Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon the Patriots issued a statement expressing their displeasure with Tuesday's ruling while continuing to support Brady.

"We are extremely disappointed in today's ruling by Commissioner Goodell," the team said in the statement. "We cannot comprehend the league's position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives."

Brady appealed his suspension on June 23 to Goodell, who served as arbitrator despite the objections of the NFLPA. Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who has had success taking on the NFL in other high-profile cases, led Brady's defense and said, "I think we put in a very compelling case."

The NFLPA filed motions Wednesday on Brady's behalf challenging the decision to uphold the suspension. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota and assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kyle. The union had hoped for Judge David Doty, who historically has ruled in favor of players in labor cases against the NFL.

Among the points Brady's representatives are expected to argue:

• The ball-deflation policy was incorrectly applied to him, as the rules were meant for club personnel and not players.

• The Wells report doesn't prove he did anything illegal.

• If it is determined that the ball-deflation policy applied to Brady, the league failed to give him notice of the penalty, in essence making up the punishment without precedent.

• The NFL doesn't have the proper techniques and standards for measuring deflation of footballs.

• Goodell was not a neutral arbitrator.

As for Goodell taking 35 days to determine Brady's appeal, sources told ESPN's Dan Graziano that the delay was rooted in the NFL's viewpoint that its decision had to be designed, vetted and written to withstand a court challenge. Thus, the delay was mostly about whether the league is comfortable in the legal presentation of the decision.

Brady, who turns 38 on Aug. 3, will miss the first four games this season unless the case goes to court. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round draft pick in 2014, would replace Brady.

New England hosts Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 to open the regular season. The Patriots then go to Buffalo, host Jacksonville, have a bye, and are at Dallas in the last game of Brady's suspension.

"The Commissioner's decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history," Yee said. "His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game."

Brady was suspended on May 11 after Wells' investigation found that it was "more probable than not" that Patriots personnel deliberately deflated footballs during the AFC title game against the Colts and that Brady was "at least generally aware" of the rule violations. The Patriots were fined $1 million and stripped of a 2016 first-round draft choice and a 2017 fourth-round draft choice.

Scientific arguments were a major part of Brady's defense. Brady's lawyers tried to shoot down the findings of an independent firm hired to provide scientific analysis of the air pressure inside the footballs used by the Patriots and Colts. The firm was retained as part of Wells' investigation.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.