Commentary

Expect Goodell to treat this seriously

How will the NFL commissioner rule in the Patriots "spying" incident? What advantage can a team get by taping defensive signals of an opponent? John Clayton has the questions and answers.

Updated: September 13, 2007, 12:04 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

According to league sources, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has determined that the New England Patriots violated league rules when it videotaped defensive signals by New York Jets coaches during the Patriots' 38-14 win Sunday. There will be a hearing with the Patriots -- mostly likely by phone by the end of the week -- and then a ruling by the commissioner that could cost New England draft picks. Here are some questions and answers on the incident:

What is the commissioner's stance?
Such spying is a serious infraction. It's cheating and could affect the outcome of games. Goodell established a strict player conduct policy, and he wants coaches and team employees to also live up to a high standard.

What rules did the Patriots allegedly violate?
The "Game Operations Manual" states that "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." The manual states that "all video shooting locations must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead." NFL security officials confiscated a camera and videotape from a New England video assistant on the Patriots' sideline when it was suspected he was recording the Jets' defensive signals. Taping any signals is prohibited. The toughest part usually is finding evidence to support an allegation.

What could the punishment be?
Goodell must come down hard on this one because he clearly has evidence. ESPN has reported that Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots "multiple draft picks." That could mean a combination of a second-rounder and something else, maybe a fifth-rounder. The commissioner could push the penalty over two years, but he can't treat this lightly by just taking away a second-day draft choice. The Patriots are good. They had only two draft choices -- a first- and a second-round pick -- make the team this season. Fining them just a fourth-round choice wouldn't hurt them much.

What advantage could a coach get by stealing defensive signals?
Any good coach with knowledge of the defensive play calls from the sideline can adjust his blocking schemes and come up with the appropriate counter measures. You've seen quarterbacks and coaches study photos of defensive alignments after each possession. If there is a way to pick up defensive signals, a quarterback can make the right audibles and get out of a bad play. Knowledge is everything.

Belichick is the best in the business at taking information and turning it into strategy. He's the best coach in football at knowing the strength and the weakness of a player and putting him in a position to succeed. Give him a signal or two and he will know how to burn a team with a big play at the right time. A coach that smart is always looking for an edge.

Why will owners be upset about this?
First, many owners may feel Belichick beat them by cheating. That may be hard to take, but that's life. What is going to upset them even more is this incident could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. This incident will probably lead to having a defensive player on the field with a radio helmet to receive defensive signals from the sideline. Using hand signals to relay defensive calls is an outdated concept. The offense can use modern technology. Why can't defenders? It's going to cost money to equip defenders. Thanks to this incident, owners may have to start paying for that advancement next year.

What will be Belichick's defense?
That's hard to say because there won't be an open hearing. In fact, the hearing is supposed to be done by phone as early as late this week. The commissioner doesn't have to supply details of the Patriots' position. He just has to render a decision. Bringing Belichick to New York would be a circus. There is no reason to have a circus involving this one. The video either says the Patriots were spying or not. Goodell will listen to Belichick's defense and then deliver his penalty.

What will be the longterm effect on Belichick and the Patriots?
Although this is embarrassing, you can't take away what this franchise can do. They may have the best team in football. Robert Kraft is one of the league's best owners. The team has three Super Bowl rings and a great chance to get a fourth. Other great organizations have paid penalties for violating league rules. The Broncos lost a draft choice for violating the salary cap with John Elway. The Steelers once had to forfeit a third-round draft choice for working out in shoulder pads in the offseason. The Patriots may lose a draft choice or two. And whether or not the Patriots videotaped the Jets' defensive signals, Belichick won't be any less of a coach.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer