The Worst Draft-Related Punishment in NFL History Hurt the Patriots for Years

The Houston Astros cheating scandal saw the team stripped of draft picks. It’s common among pro sporting leagues to hit teams where it hurts. The NFL has seen its share of draft-related penalties over the years. But the Patriots may be the most harmful draft-related punishment of all time.

How do teams lose draft picks? 

When it comes to punishing a team, there’s only so much that the leagues can do to make it hurt. The fines, while huge for the average person, are often pocket change for teams who pay them. So the league had to devise a way to make the punishment hurt. This is where draft picks come in. 

Teams can lose draft picks for a variety of reasons in the NFL. In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons lost a fifth-rounder for pumping fake crowd noise into their stadium. Other teams, like the 2011 Detroit Lions and the 2008 San Francisco 49ers were docked picks for tampering with players still under contract with other teams. 

The punishment was first given in 1980 when the Oakland Raiders were docked a fourth-rounder after being caught evading the player limit for an NFL roster. That same year, the Eagles were docked their third-round pick for holding an illegal tryout away from the NFL’s sanctioned tryouts. Most of the losses of draft picks have to do with roster construction, player communication, and playing the system to gain an advantage. 

From the New Orleans Saints’ Bountygate to several minor offenses, the loss of a draft pick can be devastating, especially in an early round. With all of these punishments, the New England Patriots received two of the stiffest punishments for veering into cheating territory. 

The Patriots’ Spygate

The first Patriots scandal that forced the NFL’s hand occurred in 2008 when the team was caught illegally taping the Jets and stealing coaching signals to gain an extra advantage. It is noteworthy that this scandal occurred during the season that the Patriots went undefeated before losing in the Super Bowl to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. 

Although the initial reports were about the Jets, in 2015, an ESPN report showed that the Patriots’ scandal was happening elsewhere, too. The Patriots weren’t just setting up cameras; they were going undercover with media credentials and were fed excuses to tell people if they got caught filming illegally. 

The Patriots collected these tapes and kept them. It got so bad, reports ESPN, that even those inside of the franchise believed the team was spiraling out of control. The scheme also reportedly involved the Patriots sending their low-level employees into the visiting locker room to steal play sheets, as well. 

Eventually, the team was caught. The NFL was not relaxed with the punishment. While most teams lose a later draft pick for their malfeasance, the Patriots lost their first-round pick. Seven years later, the team would find itself in another scandal, too.

The Patriots’ Deflategate

As if they didn’t learn from their first scandal, the Patriots were caught in a cheating scheme in 2015. Tom Brady was caught deflating footballs to his liking during the AFC Championship Game. Perhaps, if the team had not been embroiled in the 2008 scandal, this might have gone unnoticed. With Spygate still relatively fresh, however, the league took notice. 

Not only did the team take away a 2016 first-rounder, but they also took away a 2017 fourth-rounder and Brady was suspended entering the next season. To date, the Patriots are still the only team to lose first-rounders, and they did so twice. With Super Bowl success after both cases, however, the team fought off any devastating fallout from its actions. 

The NFL has been taking draft picks for 40 years, but no team has seen its wrath as much as the New England Patriots. The team might have recovered both times. But years removed from the situation, these draft pick losses could hurt the team.

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