New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games without pay and his team was fined $1 million and docked two draft picks in penalties doled out by the NFL on Monday over the deflated balls scandal.
The punishment was announced five days after the release of the long-awaited Wells report, which detailed what it called a "deliberate effort" by two Patriots employees to release air from footballs prior to the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January.
Brady, the report by NFL-appointed attorney Ted Wells said, was "generally aware" that locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski were letting the air out of balls.
The investigation found no evidence that team ownership, coach Bill Belichick or head equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld knew of the practice.
The league suspended Brady for what it called "conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL." The two-time NFL MVP can participate in all offseason, training camp and preseason activities, including preseason games, but he will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season.
He is eligible to return Oct. 18 against the Colts -- a Sunday night game in Indianapolis.
His agent, Don Yee, said Brady will appeal the suspension.
In addition to the $1 million fine, the Patriots will forfeit a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-round selection in 2017 for violating the rules and failing to cooperate with the investigation, the NFL said.
"We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release announcing the penalties.
The Patriots won the game against the Colts 45-7 and went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl, the fourth title for New England in the Brady-Belichick era.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft criticized Monday's penalties as excessive and said Brady has the organization's "unconditional support."
"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league," Kraft said in a statement. "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 (Wells) report."
Yee criticized the Wells report last week as having "significant and tragic flaws" and Kraft called it inconclusive.
Brady said during a public appearance last Thursday that he had no real reaction to the report, which he said he hadn't had time to fully read.
In a letter to Brady, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent says the Wells report established "substantial and credible evidence" showing Brady was "at least generally aware" that air was being let out of footballs and that it was "unlikely" it was being done without Brady knowing it.
The Wells report also showed Brady didn't cooperate with the investigation by refusing to produce any relevant emails or texts. He provided testimony the report said contradicted other evidence.
"Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football," Vincent, a former Pro Bowl cornerback, wrote.
"The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules," Vincent wrote. "Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public's confidence in the game is called into question."
In a statement released to the media, Yee called Brady's suspension "ridiculous" and said it has "no legitimate basis." He called the Wells report "unfair" and said it raised more questions about the NFL for what he called the league's lack of "standards or protocols" in how footballs are handled before games.
Yee said Brady cooperated with the investigation.
"We will appeal, and if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic," Yee said. "The NFL has a well- documented history of making poor disciplinary decisions that often are overturned when truly independent and neutral judges or arbitrators preside, and a former federal judge has found the commissioner has abused his discretion in the past, so this outcome does not surprise me."
In a letter to the Patriots, Vincent says the NFL determined the team committed a violation based the standard of proof included in the league's Integrity of the Game Policy.
"Namely," Vincent wrote, "preponderance of the evidence, meaning that 'as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.'"
Vincent also cited the Patriots' 2007 "SpyGate" scandal, in which the team was found to have videotaped the signals of opposing defensive coaches.
"Under the Integrity of the Game Policy, this prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case," Vincent wrote.
McNally and Jastremski, the Patriots employees, were indefinitely suspended without pay by the team and cannot be reinstated without the NFL's permission.
If they are reinstated, Jastremski is prohibited from having any role in the preparation, supervision or handling of footballs for NFL games next season, and McNally is barred from serving as a locker room attendant for the game officials or having any involvement with the preparation, supervision or handling of footballs or any other equipment on game day, the league said.
Brady's four-game suspension is twice the length of the penalty handed out by the NFL last year after then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice struck the woman who is now his wife in an Atlantic City elevator.
Goodell was widely criticized over the penalty, especially after video surfaced of Rice hitting the woman in the face, and he later said he "didn't get it right" when he suspended Rice two games.
Rice was later suspended indefinitely, but won an appeal to be reinstated on the basis that he was being penalized under a revamped personal conduct policy that wasn't in effect when the incident occurred.