Tom Brady might serve his four-game suspension after all.
In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Monday reinstated the suspension of Brady, the Patriots' four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, in the so-called Deflategate case. The panel's ruling overturned a lower-court decision that had voided the NFL's suspension.
Brady can appeal the decision to the full 2nd Circuit Court or the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal experts said both attempts would be long shots. Brady was thinking over his options, ESPN reported.
Brady's lawyers had argued that he was unfairly suspended for his involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs used in the AFC Championship Game in January 2015. The Patriots won the contest over the Colts 45-7 and then won the Super Bowl.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman agreed the ban was unfair last summer and let Brady play the 2015 season.
The NFL appealed, and the 2nd Circuit panel heard oral arguments in March. The judges were openly skeptical of many of the arguments made by Brady's lawyer, signaling that they sided with the NFL's case that commissioner Roger Goodell had broad discretion to suspend players.
In their decision, the judges did not consider the much-discussed underlying facts of the case, including the science of football deflation, but looked solely at whether Goodell, as arbitrator, acted in the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement.
"We hold that the commissioner properly exercised this broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness," Judges Barrington Daniels Parker Jr. and Denny Chin wrote in their opinion.
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann dissented.
"I am troubled by the commissioner's decision to uphold the unprecedented four-game suspension," Katzmann said. "It is ironic that a process designed to ensure fairness to all players has been used unfairly against one player."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the court ruled Goodell acted properly in cases involving the integrity of the game.
The Players Association, which has represented Brady, said in a statement it was disappointed and would review the decision and consider its options. "We fought Roger Goodell's suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players' rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement," it said.
The Patriots open the 2016 season on Sept. 11 at Arizona, followed by games at home against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Brady's backup is Jimmy Garoppolo, who appeared in 11 games over his first two seasons but hasn't made a start.
The NFL's decision to suspend one of its most popular and successful players for being "generally aware" of a plot to deflate footballs in the AFC title game two seasons ago has intrigued the nation like few football stories. Brady's suspension has also polarized the league and union, which has been in a pitched battle with Goodell over his decisions to suspend players for domestic violence and a host of other offenses.
Brady, too, has been a visible advocate of union causes. In 2011, he was one of the named plaintiffs when the players sued the league for violating antitrust statutes.