The biggest revelation from Roger Goodell’s decision upholding Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was that Brady’s cell phone was destroyed shortly before meeting with Ted Wells and his investigators, even though he knew Wells wanted access to the contents of his text messages. Here is how Wells described his request to Brady during the hearing of the appeal of his suspension:
We wanted two buckets of information. We wanted him to take the phone, look at the text messages, e-mails, run the search terms that we set forth and give us any communications with anybody about deflation or inflation. So if Mr. Brady had talked to an assistant coach or talked to the second-team quarterback about these issues, we would get that material.
We then asked him for all communications regardless of subject matter, I think, between Mr. Jastremski and McNally, regardless of — and Schoenfeld, regardless of the search terms. So we wanted two buckets of information. And I know, I didn’t get — okay, I will stop.
Wells was clear that he didn’t want to actually take possession of Brady’s phone. Rather, he wanted Brady to have somebody search the contents of his text messages and emails and turn over the ones that contained certain key words, or were exchanged with certain key figures. Wells said multiple times that he told Brady’s agent, Don Yee, that he would trust Yee to be forthright and turn over all relevant messages.
But on the advice of his agents, Brady declined to do so. At the appeal hearing, Wells was unmistakeable in how pivotal this choice was in his eventual findings: “I think that was one of the most ill-advised decisions I have ever seen because it hurt how I viewed his credibility.”
In preparation for his June 23 appeal, Brady hired a forensic examiner to do the searches that Wells originally requested. Brady gave the forensic examiner two of his cell phones to examine. One of the phones was active between March 6, 2015 (the day he was interviewed by Wells) and April 8, 2015. Since this phone wasn’t active during the time period relevant to Wells’s investigation, the forensic examiner didn’t do anything further with it:
An initial examination of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 indicated that its dates of active use were from March 6, 2015 through April 8, 2015. As such it was deemed to be outside the scope of the investigation and nofurther analysis was conducted.
The other phone was active between (probably) May 23, 2014 and Nov. 5, 2014. Here’s the forensic examiner explaining the uncertainty over the start date:
The March 23, 2014 date is based upon notes/location information from the installed application “Evernote”. It is likely that this could have been synchronized onto the phone at a later date and that the records were created on a different device. May 23, 2014 shows multiple applications being installed and is the first time web cookies are noted to exist. It is believed to be the more accurate initial active usage date.
The forensic examiner found a total of 557 text messages sent between Oct. 5, 2014 and Nov. 4, 2014. The examiner found that Brady had not exchanged any text messages with Patriots equipment manager David Schoenfield, equipment assistant John Jastremski, or locker room attendant Jim McNally. It doesn’t seem that the forensic examiner searched for messages containing any of the Wells preferred search terms like “deflate” and PSI.”
The discerning reader will notice that we’re left with a gap between Nov. 6, 2014 and March 5, 2015 in which the contents of Brady’s text messages are unavailable. Considering that the AFC Championship game was contested on January 18, 2015, this is a crucial four-month period. This is the destroyed cell phone that so rankled Ted Wells and Roger Goodell.
Brady was questioned extensively at his appeal hearing about this gap, and he asserted that it had always been his practice to have his cell phones destroyed every so often. He explained that there is private information like players contracts, endorsement deals, and photos of his family on his phone that he wanted wiped. That seems like a perfectly reasonable desire.
The timing seems too perfect to be a coincidence, however. While Brady didn’t answer conclusively, he conceded that since he gets a new phone when he gets rid of his old phone, and since his new phone became active on March 6, 2015, he likely got rid of the phone shortly before then. March 6, 2015 just so happens to be the day that Brady was interviewed by Ted Wells:
Q. Okay. And did you do anything unusual here in terms of getting rid of your phone? And I will explain what I mean. In other words, did you hear about the Wells investigation or the request for this and then say, oh, let’s get rid of my cell phone or anything like that?
Q. Did you do anything unusual except your normal practice, when you are done with a cell phone, to get rid of it and have it destroyed?
A. That’s what I do.
In response to a question from Roger Goodell, Brady avoided giving a specific answer as to how often he gets a new phone (he did admit, however, to breaking his phone three or four times by stepping on the screen):
COMMISSIONER GOODELL: Just, Jeff, can I ask a question? How often do you normally dispose of your phone? When you say “get rid of,” does it run out of time?
THE WITNESS: Well, if it — a new version may come out of a particular phone, if I break the phone, I’ve stepped on the screen a few times, it just fell out of my bag at my locker, I’m not seeing it, I stepped on it, I think three or four times, sometimes the touch panel breaks.
COMMISSIONER GOODELL: But it’s not a very regular practice, irrespective of you breaking it, to just get rid of it or when a new version comes out? I’m trying to understand that, or is it every month you change it just for security reasons?
THE WITNESS: No, I don’t do that.
The NFL asked about the current location of the missing phone, but Brady professed ignorance.
Q. Do you know where that phone is now?
A. No idea.
Q. Are you certain that you disposed of that 1 phone?
A. I gave it to my assistant.
Q. Do you know when you provided it to your assistant?
A. I have no idea.
Q. And when you provided it to your assistant, did you provide it to your assistant for the purpose of it being disposed of?
Physically possessing the phone isn’t the only way of accessing the contents of its text messages, of course. Submitted as evidence for his appeal hearing, Brady wrote to his carrier, AT&T, and inquired about the messages:
An AT&T executive wrote back and explained that, unless Brady was an AT&T Messages subscriber (he wasn’t), the contents of his messages were only stored on AT&T’s servers for three days at most and there was no way to retrieve the texts.
Brady was able to obtain a log of all his phone calls and text messages, and since he had not changed phone numbers, this included calls and messages during the mysterious four-month gap. These were cross-referenced against communications listed in the Wells Report, and for the most part (with the exception of three missing texts) they matched, as Wells was given access to both Jastremski and McNally’s Patriots-supplied work phones. This is one of Brady’s strongest arguments that there are no missing damaging text messages: since Wells had access to Jastremski and McNally’s side of any damning conversations with Brady, why did he need Brady’s messages?
Of course, Wells wasn’t solely looking for Brady’s communication with Jastremski and McNally, but also whether he had used a variety of deflation-related terms with anybody else. And as pointed out in the NFL’s questioning of Brady, there are also three texts exchanged with Jastremski on February 7 that do not appear in the Wells Report:
Q. Let’s look back at NFL Exhibit 96, the letter from Mr. Yee to Commissioner Goodell. And I’m directing your attention to page 3 of the letter in the middle of the page. After Number 2, Jastremski, toward the end of that paragraph, it says, “The phone bills also show three text message exchanges on February 7, 2015 between 8:21 p.m. and 8:33 p.m. These occurred after the Super Bowl and were not mentioned or referenced in the Wells report.”
And that’s where we stand on Tom Brady’s destroyed cell phone. He likely gave it to his assistant to wipe after only owning it for four months. Most of what Wells wanted from the phone he was able to find on Jastremski and McNally’s phones, but crucially, Brady’s refusal to hand it over radically altered Wells’s opinion of his guilt, and was the main reason why Wells found that he wasn’t a credible witness.
As for the emails Wells originally requested, Brady had more luck in finding these. On June 3 his forensic examiner catalogued all 5,317 emails Brady sent or received between Sept. 1, 2014 and March 1, 2015. These emails were searched for the following terms:
k-ball, kball, gage, air-pump, airpump, needle, pin, PSI, pounds per square inch, 12.5, bladder, McNally, Bird, 1 pound, 1 lb, one pound, one lb, 2 pound, 2 lb, two pound, two lb, gaug* [the * means that all variations of “gaug” were included, such as gauge, gauging, gauged etc.], pump*, inflat*, deflat*, (game OR kick*) ball ~2 [this means Brady’s emails were searched to see whether the words “game” or “kick*” were found within two words of “ball”], (prep* OR rub*) AND (ball OR football) ~10, (investigat* OR meet* OR discuss* OR question) AND (championship OR Jan* 18 OR 1/18), investigat* AND (ball OR football OR Ind* OR Colts) ~10, (equilib* OR atmosphere* OR climat* OR environment* OR test* OR experiment) AND (ball OR football) ~10
All the emails that came up in those searches were submitted as evidence in the ongoing suit, and we are still working our way through all of them (you can get a taste here). But from the forensic examiner’s report it seems like none of them were particularly relevant. For instance, the word bladder was found twice, both times referring to the human body, and the only time “one pound” was used was when discussing eating protein. A bunch of finance emails are included, as Brady discussed the economic concepts of deflation or inflation with others.
You can read the forensic examiner’s two reports, AT&T’s letter to Brady, and the log of the phone calls and text messages he exchanged with Schoenfield, Jastremski, and McNally below.