- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The decision is in, and the Patriots could lose a first-round draft choice for using a cameraman to steal signals from the New York Jets defensive coaches. If the Patriots make the playoffs, they will give up a first-round pick in 2008. If they don't make the playoffs, they will give up a second- and a third-rounder in '08. Bill Belichick has been fined $500,000, and the team will lose $250,000.
Here are answers to key questions:
Can the Patriots survive the loss of a first-round choice?
Absolutely. They have additional first- and third-round choices next year. They are loaded for the future. They are loaded for the present. Here is the funny part about this story: Belichick is putting everything into this season. He traded for Randy Moss and signed three wide receivers. He spent $7 million a year on Adalius Thomas. For now, he doesn't care about the future. He cares about winning this year. Nothing in this decision affects the Patriots' ability to win this season.
Why did commissioner Roger Goodell rule so quickly?
He had the evidence. A security guard at the Jets game confiscated the camera being used by the Patriots employee, handed it to another Jets employee and found an NFL security person. The tape obviously showed Jets coaches making defensive signals. With that type of evidence, Goodell could make a quick ruling. It took only five days from the time of the game and the recovery of the tape.
What is the reaction around the league?
Some teams are angry because they don't think the Patriots were penalized enough. Many believe Belichick should have been suspended for a game or two. Belichick means everything to this team. He is the best coach in football. He has the best schemes in the league. Losing him for a game or two could be the difference in the Patriots having homefield advantage in the playoffs or maybe even making the playoffs.
What are other teams upset about?
They believe Belichick has been doing this for years. Whether he did or didn't, no one knows for sure. This decision goes to this one incident in the Jets game.
Did the Patriots have an advantage with the information from the videotaped signals?
There is short- and long-term value in getting the signals. A CD of the signals could be made for the second half of the game. Coaches could match the pictures of the blitz alignments with the signals and know what blitzes were being called. If there were a way to get word to quarterback Tom Brady, he could call audibles at the line of scrimmage. That type of information is valuable. If it were done in a divisional game, the Patriots would have a chance to study the signals for the next game and devise a game plan.
Is this practice widespread?
No, but other teams have done it. The Competition Committee understands the technology of the game is good enough to put video with pictures and give a complete look at a team's strategy. The penalty of a first-round choice should cause other teams to stop doing it, but it probably won't completely eliminate it. You certainly won't see the Patriots doing it again.
What will happen next?
Expect the Competition Committee to receive approval on using radio communication systems for defensive players. That eliminates the need for hand signals unless the equipment breaks down. The systems will cost owners several hundred thousand dollars. The last vote for the system failed by two votes. For what it's worth, Belichick voted against using radio communication on defense.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
8hEric D. Williams