MIAMI — Despite having video evidence, an admission of guilt and nearly two months of investigation in the books, the NFL isn’t ready to render judgement on the New England Patriots’ taping of the Cincinnati Bengals sideline in December.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell surprisingly had nothing conclusive to offer on the league’s investigation during his “State of the NFL” address on Wednesday. It was at least a mildly interesting development, considering the league appeared to have what it needed to wrap up its probe by this week’s Super Bowl. Instead, Goodell said it wasn’t an open-and-shut case, insisting the NFL won’t be ready to close the proceedings until it feels it has exhausted every question surrounding of the incident.
“No, it shouldn’t [be an open-and-shut case], because our responsibility is to make sure we’re being extremely thorough,” Goodell said. “We have a responsibility to 31 other clubs. We have a responsibility to partners. We have a responsibility to fans to understand all of what happened and to make sure that something we don’t know happened, didn’t happen.”
Since the start of the investigation, the NFL has been almost universally focused on the intention of the footage that was recorded by a Patriots video crew during a Dec. 8 game between the Bengals and Cleveland Browns. More specifically, why a significant block of the footage was a wide-angle shot of the Bengals, including panning and zooming on substitutions and different player groupings. The Patriots have admitted guilt, but said the footage was simply a mistake by a crew that was filming the duties of an advanced scout for an in-house feature series that has run on the team’s website.
However, it became clear from league sources after the December incident that a number of teams — and most assuredly the Bengals — intended to put pressure on Goodell to mount a legitimate investigation into the incident. One league office source also told Yahoo Sports that the NFL’s investigation would have to walk a fine line of both serving the other 31 NFL teams but also taking into account that a fair process was also extended to Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the process.
That tightrope likely has played a part in the investigation stretching on longer than anticipated. Particularly considering the outcome — if it occurs before the league’s annual meeting in March — will face an autopsy from other team owners and put Goodell into a position of having to provide answers at the next set of meetings. What Goodell appeared to be conveying on Wednesday was closing off any avenue that would allow some kind of unseen revelation about the taping of the Bengals to suddenly surface down the road.
“From our standpoint, we want to make sure we’re being thorough,” Goodell said. “Our team has been on it. We have been focused on this. I think it has not been that lengthy of time. We have obviously put the focus on it, but we’re going to get it right. When we come to a conclusion, we’ll certainly make sure people are aware of it.”
Goodell didn’t provide a timeframe for the conclusion of the investigation, although the next significant set of owners meetings when the topic will likely be pressed comes in late March.
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