CNN is reporting that the NFL is investigating the New England Patriots for videotaping the New York Jets staff making defensive signals during Sunday's game. The Patriots have previously been accused of stealing signals by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. John Tomase at the Boston Herald recaps the story and the previous charges in more detail. If the league finds the charges to be true, the Patriots could be lose one or multiple draft picks.
Although there is little public record re: the facts of the situation, the potential validity of the charges must be taken seriously. While the results of the investigation will ultimately determine if there is any fire for all of this smoke, we can still engage in some reasonable speculation both in favor of and against the charges.
- If the Patriots have been previously accused of this, why would they continue to do it when the story was already out there? It's hard to imagine an organization as well-handled as the Patriots would do something this stupid, get caught, then do it again, get caught again, and then do it again against a team staffed by multiple former employees. Besides Mangini, Brian Dabol was on the Patriots staff last year (when the initial accusations were made by the Lions and Packers,) so the Jets had to have some suspicions. Unless the Pats staff has been infected by a severe case of hubris, this seems unlikely.
- Who is the employee in question? The suspected employee has not been named, nor is it clear if the previous accusations were against the same employee. One remote possibility was that some overzealous person overstepped his bounds. I don't think this is very likely given the multiple instances, but given the number of people granted access to the field there is a chance that the Patriots staff was unaware that he was doing this in addition to his official duties.
- How many instances are there? The Buffalo Bills are reviewing security tape looking for potential sign-stealing by the Patriots. Other teams are probably doing the same thing. Even if little hard evidence comes out of the investigation, enough accusations and circumstantial evidence could cause the league to level some sanction.
- Why even bother with using a team official on the field? The technology of longer range viewing equipment would preclude the need to use someone on the field. Why would the Patriots be so conspicuous as to have someone on the field making hand signals to the coaches.