By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — So let me get this straight.

The NFL accused Patriots assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and game day officials locker room attendant Jim McNally of conspiring to commit an act so egregious, so revolting, that the league was willing to take the case to a federal courtroom. In fact, the NFL so strongly believes in the guilt of these two men that the league continues to fight that case in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals — a case that is likely to extend for several months in New York.

Yet … at the same time … the NFL will issue no further discipline and reinstate both Patriots employees, allowing them to return to work — albeit in different roles — just one week into the 2015 NFL season.

With apologies to every English teacher and professor I’ve ever had, I can find only one word to properly react to this news.

Huh?

The whole situation with regard to Jastremski and McNally has reeked from the get-go. After the public release of the Wells report and before the league issued an absurd level of punishment on the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, the team suspended both employees. Adam Schefter reported that the team did so at the request of the league, though commissioner Roger Goodell has denied that report on multiple occasions. In fact, just last week, Goodell said this: “Absolutely not. No. That was a decision by the Patriots.”

Like many assertions from Goodell and the NFL throughout the entire eight-month “DeflateGate” process, this statement was complete and utter hogwash.

Sure, the NFL might not have demanded the employees be suspended. Yet as the league office contemplated a proper level of discipline, someone from the NFL very likely suggested it might be in the Patriots’ best interest to start complying. That would very realistically involve suspending the employees for the time being.

When that punishment did finally come down on May 11, the official letter from the league stated:

The evidence gathered during the investigation and reviewed in the report more than satisfy this standard and demonstrate an ongoing plan by at least certain Patriots’ employees to deflate footballs, to do so in a secretive manner after the game officials have certified the footballs as suitable for play, and to hide these activities even from their own supervisors.

Neither of these individuals may be reinstated without the prior approval of NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.

So regardless of whether the NFL officially demanded the suspension of the employees, it was made very clear in May that the league held all the cards in terms of determining their fate as employees of the Patriots.

Yet Goodell remained keenly aware that the longer those men remained suspended, the guiltier the Patriots looked. And so, he carried a PR torch based on semantics, claiming to have had nothing to do with the uncertain job status of those two men.

But on Sunday, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported that the league will reinstate both employees and impose no discipline on either. NFL executive VP Troy Vincent will meet with Jastremski and McNally to discuss their new roles going forward — roles which presumably will have nothing to do with the handling of footballs on game day.

(It’s important to include “presumably” in that previous sentence, because with the way the NFL handled this situation from the very start, you just can’t take anything for granted. Remember, after the NFL had been told ahead of time to watch out for funny business regarding the footballs on the night of the AFC Championship Game, referee Walt Anderson lost the footballs, panicked, and then used the footballs that went missing anyway. After an FBI-level raid and inspection during halftime, the officials let an unaccompanied McNally bring the balls out to the field for the second half. You just never know how the NFL will handle anything.)

So to recap: We were all supposed to be led to believe that John Jastremski and Jim McNally were part of a covert operation that challenged the integrity of the game so significantly that it should cost the Patriots $1 million, a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick. In addition, the clandestine conspiracy warranted a suspension that would force Tom Brady to miss one-quarter of the NFL season, costing him nearly $2 million in salary.

Since that punishment was handed down, nothing has stood in the way of the NFL’s path for absolute control of the situation. Not even a harshly worded ruling from a federal judge which pointed out obvious flaw in the process deterred Goodell, as he announced that the league would be appealing the decision just hours after it was made.

The offenses which the NFL claims were committed by these two men were grave, significant threats to the entire sport of football. And for committing them, the NFL will … let them get back to work in the first month of the NFL season.

Are you starting to see how things don’t exactly line up with what the NFL claims, what the NFL has actually proven, and what the NFL states publicly?

To anyone who’s been paying close attention, such inconsistencies have been apparent since Jan. 18. But to even a reluctant follower of the saga, the latest news is simply too glaring to overlook. And to at least 11 out of 12 judges in New York, the league’s appeal will be significantly lacking in a case that will fall a full two suspended employees short of having any actual substance.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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