- Mike Fish, ESPN Senior Writer
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Former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, who has told ESPN.com he has potentially damaging information about the team's taping practices, reached an agreement Wednesday to meet with league officials and turn over any videotapes he might have to support his allegations.
Walsh, employed by the Patriots from 1996 through the 2002 Super Bowl and now an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, is expected to travel to New York and interview with commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL officials on May 13. Before the long-anticipated meeting, the agreement calls for Walsh to provide the league with any tapes or materials he possesses from his years with the Patriots.
"Commissioner Goodell will meet with Mr. Walsh ... on May 13, the earliest date that Mr. Walsh, who lives in Hawaii, will be available on the East Coast," the NFL said in a statement released Wednesday. "The agreement also requires Mr. Walsh to return any tapes and other items in his possession that belong to the Patriots. In return, the NFL and the Patriots have promised not to sue Mr. Walsh. They also will indemnify him for any expenses, including legal fees that he incurs in connection with the interview."
Walsh told ESPN.com in a January interview that he had never been contacted by NFL officials during their investigation of the Patriots' illegal taping practices. It was only after his name surfaced in the media during Super Bowl week that the league attempted to reach Walsh, who worked seven years with the Patriots before being let go in January 2003.
The Spygate story surfaced after a Patriots video assistant was caught illegally taping defensive signals made by New York Jets assistant coaches during the 2007 season opener. The Jets knew what to look for in catching the Patriots, as head coach Eric Mangini and several assistants, including video director Steve Scarnecchia, previously worked under Bill Belichick in New England.
"If I had a reason to want to go public or tell a story, I could have done it before this even broke," Walsh told ESPN.com in January. "I could have said everything rather than having Mangini be the one to bring it out."
Walsh, 31, is thought to be the last and perhaps most crucial witness in the lingering Spygate saga. He expressed a willingness to speak to NFL officials back in January about insights into the Pats' taping procedures, but his attorney, Michael N. Levy, a white-collar crime specialist with the Washington-based firm of McKee Nelson, continued negotiating with the league until Walsh was provided full indemnification against possible lawsuits, absent intentional untruthfulness.
"I am pleased that we now have an agreement that provides Mr. Walsh with appropriate legal protections," Levy said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Walsh is looking forward to providing the NFL with the materials he has and telling the NFL what he knows."
The eight-page agreement requires Walsh turn over to the NFL any documents and materials, including videotapes that relate to allegations of videotaping Patriots opponents, by May 8. His legal counsel, Levy, is allowed under the agreement to retain a copy of his document, though the materials cannot be used for commercial purposes or in a manner that could "reasonably be expected to be disparaging to the NFL." Nor may Walsh or his attorney make documents available to a third party without the league's consent.
The agreement fully indemnifies Walsh and holds him harmless against all claims, losses, liabilities, attorneys fees, costs (including travel expenses) and reasonable lost wages as a result of his former employment with the Patriots and subsequent cooperation in the NFL's videotaping investigation.
Walsh is also required to refrain from seeking commercial gain from his involvement until fulfilling his obligations to the league. In an interesting twist, the agreement spells out that any money Walsh makes from his involvement in Spygate during the next five years must first go to pay the costs the league might incur in indemnifying him. The league would then give that money to a charity selected by the NFL and approved by Walsh. He could keep any money he would make beyond that.
The agreement also stipulates that Walsh must meet with the NFL before being interviewed by any third party, including the media. "Accordingly, Mr. Walsh will not be making any statements at this time," Levy said.
The drawn-out negotiations between Levy and the league's outside counsel, Gregg Levy (no relation), presumably also representing the Patriots' interest, finally closed in on a deal during the past two weeks.
The question now is whether Walsh has first-hand insight or video evidence to advance the story. Walsh has suggested he has videotapes, and the agreement is written with that assumption. But if he does have tapes, what do they reveal? And how much more damaging would it be for the Patriots and Belichick?
There's also the issue of what light, if any, he can shed on allegations that the then-underdog Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams' walk-through the afternoon before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. Rumors of the taping first circulated shortly after the Spygate incident last September, and were reported by the Boston Herald, citing a single, unnamed source, on the eve of the Super Bowl.
The Herald story cited an unidentified member of the Patriots' video staff as having filmed the Rams' final practice. Other media outlets subsequently connected Walsh to the alleged taping. ESPN.com, however, has been unable to confirm that the taping took place.
Asked about the rumored taping, Walsh told ESPN.com: "Really, it is nothing that I care to go on the record about or talk about."
Ever since his name surfaced, the league and the Patriots have minimized Walsh's significance to Spygate, while continuing to hit on the theme that the matter has been thoroughly investigated and that it's time to move on. Back in September, the league took away the Patriots' first-round draft pick (31st pick in Saturday's draft), while levying a $500,000 fine against Belichick and a $250,000 fine against the team.
The story has been kept alive by Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has criticized the league's investigation -- specifically the destruction of notes and six tapes turned over by the Patriots from the 2006 season and 2007 preseason. After initially describing the illegal taping as very limited, Goodell later revealed that Belichick had admitted following the same taping practices since he took over the Patriots in 2000.
"I'm glad to see it,'' Specter told ESPN.com. "They worked a long time on it and they got it done. I think it is a good thing.''
When asked if he wanted to see the materials, Specter said, "I sure do," adding that he would ask the league to allow him access to whatever videotapes and notes Walsh turns over.
"To whatever extent the league's approval is necessary, I will ask them for it in a formal way,'' Specter said.
Specter will not be part of the NFL's interview of Walsh but confirmed he expected to be meeting with Walsh in Washington also on May 13.
As for what he wants to learn from Walsh in their conversation, Specter said: "I want to know everything. I would begin chronologically. When did the first taping occur? Who directed it? And who knew about it? Who participated in it, and what use was made of it? And what effect did it have on the game, as best he could tell? Was there ever any disagreement about using it?''
What he learns from Walsh, as well as the materials the former video assistant turns over, will determine whether Specter will ask the judiciary committee to look into the matter.
"I have never asked the committee to do anything about it because the factual basis, in my judgment, hasn't risen to a level to warrant committee action given the other work of the committee,'' Specter said. "But let us see what happens, what the gravity of it is and make an evaluation.
"I think there has been a substantial public reaction that there is a lot of smoke. And there needs to be a determination as to whether there has been a fire and to what extent there has been a fire.''
Specter has been vocal in expressing frustration with what he views as stonewalling tactics by the league and its teams. His staff has approached individuals with both the Patriots and Jets, only to be told by team attorneys that they would not cooperate with his investigation.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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