Monday, March 10, 2008
Updated: March 11, 2:10 PM ET
Agreement close, but Spygate revelations might not be imminent
By Mike Fish
Word from the lawyers has former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh primed to tell the National Football League what he knows about the team's taping practices. But as of Monday afternoon, a formal agreement hadn't been reached, and those close to the situation acknowledged that the logistics of when Walsh will meet with NFL officials has yet to even be discussed.
Over the weekend, the sides neared agreement on the general terms of the meeting and the NFL issued a statement to that effect Sunday evening. But league spokesperson Greg Aiello indicated Monday a final agreement is not likely over the next day or two.
"No, I'm not getting that sense," Aiello said.
Aiello declined to discuss the status of negotiations, though attorneys for the league and Walsh acknowledged Sunday that significant progress has been made. Michael N. Levy, who represents Walsh, has said his client wouldn't cooperate unless the league agreed to provide indemnification against possible lawsuits.
Levy declined comment Monday.
Walsh, employed by the Patriots from 1996 through the 2002 Super Bowl, has told ESPN.com in interviews that he has potentially damaging information about the team's video practices. The NFL didn't speak to Walsh last fall during its investigation of Spygate, when it levied a $500,000 fine to head coach Bill Belichick and a $250,000 fine to the team, and also took away the Patriots' first-round draft pick.
After initially describing the Patriots' taping as limited, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell later revealed that Belichick had admitted to using the same taping practices since he took over the Patriots in 2000.
Goodell now wants to speak with Walsh, as well as see any evidence he might have from his years as a Patriots video assistant.
The story has been kept alive by Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has criticized the league's investigation -- specifically the destruction of notes and six tapes turned over by the Patriots from the 2006 season and 2007 preseason. Late Monday afternoon, he said the weekend's moves are an indication the NFL is feeling some pressure to resolve the situation.
"It's an interesting development that they [the NFL] felt the need to issue a press release on Sunday that substantial progress had been made," Specter said. "They ordinarily contain their action to playing football on Sunday. They apparently have moved toward getting his testimony. They don't ordinarily issue releases on Sunday. My office issues a lot of releases. We don't issue them on Sunday. Anybody following this story can draw their own conclusion."
Specter said he wants to make sure that Walsh's information and evidence is made available to the public when it is turned over to the NFL.
"Absolutely," Specter said. "We have a pretty good buildup here, and the public has a right to know."
Aiello indicated that it is unlikely the NFL will attempt to conceal the information eventually provided by Walsh.
"I think it would be hard to keep it a secret at this point, because there is quite a bit of interest in it," the NFL spokesperson said. "I don't want to get ahead of myself. Right now, there is nothing further to report."
The attorneys have reached a common understanding on key issues, but the agreement has yet to be put on paper, and there still could be considerable back-and-forth before all the parties sign off. The league agreed to afford Walsh full legal protection after nearly a month of talks.
So when Walsh, now an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, will come forward to tell his story remains unclear. It is doubtful that a meeting between Walsh and the NFL will immediately follow the reaching of a formal agreement, as the Washington-based attorneys have full schedules and vacation plans over the next few weeks.
"I think everybody is anxious to wrap it up," Aiello said. "We'd like to deal with it and move on. And, as we all know, that hasn't happened yet."
Specter reiterated Monday that he wants to be present when Walsh speaks with the league.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.