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By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Do not mess with the integrity of the game, or else you’ll have to feel the wrath of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

By now, everyone knows this. But Goodell made it clear to the New York Cheatin’ Giants on Friday by dropping perhaps his heaviest hammer of justice yet.

For the crime of using walkie-talkies to communicate during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium when the Giants experienced some technical problems with their coach-to-QB communication system, Goodell moved the Giants’ fourth-round draft pick to … 10 spots lower in the fourth round.

Wow.

Justice has been served.

This is, of course, entirely a farce. And it is the latest example of Goodell ruling however he wants to rule based on the team in question.

What’s most perplexing about this instance is that no investigation was necessary. Head coach Ben McAdoo used the walkie-talkie in plain view, and it aired on the TV broadcast.

Even Ted Wells can see that one. And he wouldn’t even need to confiscate someone’s private cell phone and then publish his private text messages to see that one. The investigation is closed before it’s even opened.

But additionally, there’s this: illegally using a walkie-talkie in order to communicate with your quarterback in the middle of a game provides more of an advantage in a game than does the filming of coaches who are giving signals from the sideline. The thing is, what got overlooked in the Spygate hysteria, is that … the coaches in question were giving these signals in plain view. People could see them. In fact, the Patriots were free to film them if they wanted to; they just had to do the filming from specified locations.

So, in the controversy known as “Spygate,” it was not illegal to film coaches on the sidelines. It was merely a technicality regarding the location of that filming. The Patriots got hammered for ignoring a memo from the league office — a memo which said, essentially, “knock it off.”

On the contrary, the NFL strictly forbids the use of a walkie-talkie on the sideline. As Mike Florio reported, the NFL “made it clear that the coach cannot use the walkie-talkie, in any way.” This mandate came in the form of a … memo from the league office.

Both cases are pretty black-and-white. And yet, here’s the discrepancy in penalties:

PATRIOTS IN 2007-08
Stripped of first-round pick (first time in NFL history)
$500,000 fine for Bill Belichick (largest ever fine of a head coach in NFL history)
$250,000 fine for Patriots

GIANTS IN 2016-17
Fourth-round draft pick moved from No. 130 to No. 140 overall
$150,000 fine for Giants
$50,000 fine for Ben McAdoo

Slight discrepancy there, no?

Perhaps it would be more difficult to speculate that perhaps Goodell is playing favorites if the commissioner had not gone out of his way to try to help the Giants avoid any and all issues with Josh Brown during the former Giants kicker’s issues with domestic violence. Had Goodell not worked with the Giants to bypass the automatic six-game suspension which Goodell instituted himself, had Goodell not personally worked to drop that suspension to just one game in hopes of sweeping it all under the rug, then maybe — just maybe — nobody would accuse him of favoritism with regard to the New York Giants.

Maybe.

But he did.

And so, here we are.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (4)
  1. John Gerbino says:

    Communications for the Giants were completely offline, so the disadvantage of having no communication far outweighed the advantage of having a walkie talkie, which was used at the appropriate times in the play clock. The cowboys didn’t even make a big deal of it, despite losing the game, yet here you are looking for some way to validate the cheating of the Patriots. You look like a cry-baby. Surely, if the walkie-talkie was used for any more than the first 20 seconds of the play clock, and for longer than a fragment of the game, the penalty would have been harsher. :)

    1. The Giants had communications access past the last 15 seconds of the play clock, the most critical portion in order to read defensive sets, and in the 4th quarter of a tight game, the most critical portion of the game. There is no evidence whether it was used to replace the headset, but otherwise by-the-rules, or not. Saying it was is entirely speculation. The Giants also had plenty of opportunities to have signals sent in from the sidelines, either for runs or passes, to deal with the many times the league system malfunctions. So have other teams, who dealt with it within the rules. The Giants had conforming alternatives.

      The Patriots filmed signals and plays from a position not permitted by the NFL for use in that game, which the Patriots weren’t, it was for future use. The NFL broadened the meaning of their (new) rule in the process of first enforcing it. By appearances, this was more of the nature of a fine for pulling your car over to send a text and still getting ticketed, with a quibble about what constitutes being “pulled over.” The Patriots were trying to conform, they *were conforming* with the new rule *as written,* rather than *how implemented.* If it means what the NFL says it means, then it was badly written, and that meaning poorly conveyed.

      That the Giants did not benefit is clear; it’s also inconsequential. Morals, fair play, and established rules are not measured by consequence. That rule *was* cut-and-dried, well-established, succinctly stated and clearly violated. The best car analogy I can come up with for what the Giants did is that traffic backed up, they were running behind, so they passed a line of cars by driving on the shoulder, but then had to stop for a broken car in front of them.

      By the way, the Cowboys did complain, they just didn’t need to, as the league was already investigating.

      The main point here is that the best that can be said is that neither of these violations was impactful of the game involved, or particularly egregious. If either was relatively more an affront, it was that of the Giants, being a willful violation of established policy, rather than a well-supported and easily made misinterpretation of a new policy. And yet the punishments were clearly disproportionate.

      1. Splock Klock says:

        In the context of Spygate, there was not even an “easily made misinterpretation of a new policy.” The memo from Ray Anderson that went out at the start of 06 misstated the existing rule, and a memo cannot change the rule (rule changes require a vote by all owners).

        Specifically…

        The memo stated: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.”

        The rule stated: “No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.”

        It all came down to what the definition of “the field” is. The NFL defines “the field” as the area between the sidelines and the endlines. Standing out of bounds is thus not being “on the field.”

        So, anyone who actually looks at the facts of this case must conclude the Patriots did NOT break any rules. But we live in a world of alternative facts.

        Goodell selectively misinterpreted the rule book to punish success and promote parity. This is evident in the nature of the Spygate punishment: If the Pats made the playoffs without recordings in 07 (which they did), they lost a 1st round pick; if they didn’t, they lost 2nd and 3rd round pick.

        I’d like to say “that says it all,” but Goodell continues to find new ways to be a biased, confounded arbiter.

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