The NFL may believe the New England Patriots that their filming of the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline last week was merely a case of a videographer not understanding league rules, but that does not mean the defending champions will avoid significant disciplinary action.
It seems like a certainly that the Patriots are going to be fined, at the very least. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Pats are also likely to lose at least one draft pick. It’s also possible that a member of the team’s front office and/or ownership group could be suspended.
Although they claim it was an honest mistake, the Patriots acknowledged in a statement that they illegally filmed the Bengals and accepted full responsibility. They could be viewed as repeat offenders because of the fallout from "Spygate" more than 10 years ago and "Deflategate" more recently, but Mark Maske of The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the NFL is not targeting Bill Belichick or any other member of the football staff for potential punishment.
Belichick has repeatedly insisted he had no knowledge of the filming and that it was not done at the direction of anyone involved with football operations. The coach is said to be furious about the incident.
The most likely scenario is that the Patriots will face disciplinary action similar to the punishment handed down when the Atlanta Falcons were caught piping in crowd noise in 2016 and the Cleveland Browns used a cell phone to send text messages during a game between the general manager and head coach.
The Falcons were fined $350,000, lost a fifth-round draft pick, and president Rich McKay was suspended from the league’s competition committee for three months. The Browns were fined $250,000 and former general manager Ray Farmer was suspended for four games.
There’s been some question over whether the footage taken by the Patriots employee even showed anything that couldn’t be seen on TV, but a violation was committed. The NFL now has the difficult task of trying not to overreact while also avoiding outrage from fans who think they let the Patriots off easy.