Sports Outside the Beltway

Patriots Cheated on ‘Injured’ Players, Too

In addition to videotaping other teams in direct violation of League rules, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots also cheat on their use of the Injured Reserve list. Mike Florio has the details at Sporting News.

When Walsh met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he blew the whistle on the Patriots using players on injured reserve during practice. Goodell chose his words carefully at the press conference following the May 13 meeting with Walsh, explaining only that Walsh said “there was a tape at one point in time of a player inappropriately practicing.” The question left unanswered is the extent to which the Patriots engaged in such conduct outside the presence of a camera lens, and after Walsh left the team in 2003.

Enter Ross Tucker. The former Patriots offensive lineman has joined the media, and he recently wrote that the Patriots were using injured players in practice as recently as 2005. Tucker also says that none of the other three teams he played for did the same thing.

Goodell has said that he’ll investigate Walsh’s claims, but that he won’t impose further penalty on the Patriots if Walsh’s claim is corroborated. But what if Tucker’s claim is corroborated, too? And what if an investigation reveals that the Patriots have been using injured players in practice for most of the Bill Belichick era? Can Goodell really do nothing further to the team at that point, especially since he made it clear last year that the Patriots had a chance to come clean, and that any future evidence of undisclosed cheating would result in harsh sanctions?

As one league source opined to last week, the use of injured players in practice is more significant than the videotaping of defensive coaching signals. As the source explained it, the tactic allows “injured” players to be stashed on the roster, preventing other teams from claiming them on waivers. It gives the “injured” players an opportunity to develop their skills. It gives the healthy players a break from practice reps.

Simply amazing. The NFL has let Belichick get away with claiming fake injuries and under-reporting serious injuries, violating the spirit of the League’s disclosure rules, for years. But this is far more serious than that. My guess is that they’ll get away with this one, too.

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