Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots, was suspended for four games after an investigator concluded he was probably aware that team personnel let air out of footballs for a playoff game.
The league informed Brady in a letter from NFL Executive President Troy Vincent, who wrote that Brady failed to cooperate fully with the investigation and offered testimony that "was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence."
"Quarterback Tom Brady will be suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL." the league said in a statement Monday afternoon. "Brady may participate in all off-season, training camp and pre-season activities, including pre-season games."
If the suspension holds, Brady would miss the season's showcase kickoff game on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, then Week 2 at Buffalo, a home game against Jacksonville and a game at Dallas.
Interestingly, he will return the week of a Patriots-Colts AFC championship rematch in Indianapolis — the team that reportedly alerted the league to the under-inflated in the first place.
Brady's agent, Donald Yee, in a statement released after the announcement, called the punishment "ridiculous and said it had "no legitimate basis."
He added, "There is no evidence that Tom directed footballs be set at pressures below the allowable limits. In fact, the evidence shows Tom clearly emphasized that footballs be set at pressures within the rules."
Yee also noted that Brady had fully cooperated with the investigation and "answered every question presented to him." He said they would appeal the ruling.
The league also fined the team $1 million and the Patriots must forfeit their first-round pick in 2016 and fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft. If New England has more than one pick in those rounds, they must forfeit the earlier pick and are barred from trading or encumbering the picks.
John Jastremski and James McNally, the Patriots clubhouse workers who were involved in the deflation of the balls were suspended indefinitely by the club on May 6. Neither can be reinstated without permission of the league and restrictions on their duties.
The league gave several reasons why it came down so hard on the club: "The first is the club's prior record," the league wrote, citing the Spygate scandal of 2007 in which Pats staffers videotaped signals of opposing defensive coaches."
The second reason was a lack of cooperation from Brady and the Patriots. The club refused to make McNally available for an additional interview and Brady refused to hand over any emails or texts "despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by investigators to protect unrelated personal information, the league wrote.
"Although we do not hold the club directly responsible for Mr. Brady’s refusal to cooperate, it remains significant that the quarterback of the team failed to cooperate fully with the investigation," Vincent wrote to the Patriots.
“Finally, it is significant that key witnesses — Mr. Brady, Mr. Jastremski, and Mr. McNally — were not fully candid during the investigation," Vincent wrote.
The investigator’s report on the scandal known as Deflate-Gate, issued last week, faulted Jastremski and McNally in what it described as a probable scheme to deflate footballs for the AFC championship game, making them easier to grip.
Brady mostly sidestepped questions about the report in a public appearance last week. At a news conference in January, he denied wrongdoing: “I would never do anything to break the rules.”
Brady, 37, has led the Patriots to six Super Bowls and four championships.
In a statement Monday night, team owner Robert Kraft called the punishment unreasonable.
"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league," he wrote. "Today's punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
"We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans' concerns regarding the NFL's penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report.
"Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered."