By Mike Fish
Former New England Patriots
video assistant Matt Walsh, who has told ESPN.com he has potentially damaging information about the team's taping practices, reached an agreement Wednesday to meet with league officials and turn over any video tapes he might have to support his allegations.
Walsh, employed by the Patriots from 1996 through the 2002 Super Bowl and now an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, is expected to travel to New York and interview with Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL officials on Tuesday, May 13. Before the long-anticipated meeting, the agreement calls for Walsh to provide the league any tapes or materials he possesses from his years with the Patriots.
Walsh told ESPN.com in a January interview that he had never been contacted by NFL officials during their investigation of the Patriots' illegal taping practices. It was only after his name surfaced in the media during Super Bowl week that the league attempted to reach Walsh, who worked seven years with the Patriots before being let go in January, 2003.
The Spygate story surfaced after a Patriots' video assistant was caught illegally taping defensive signals from New York Jets
assistant coaches during the 2007 season opener. The Jets knew what to look for in catching the Patriots, as head coach Eric Mangini and several assistants, including video director Steve Scarnecchia, previously worked under Bill Belichick in New England.
"If I had a reason to want to go public or tell a story, I could have done it before this even broke," Walsh told ESPN.com in January. "I could have said everything rather than having Mangini be the one to bring it out."
Walsh, 31, is thought to be the last and perhaps most crucial witness in the lingering Spygate saga. He expressed a willingness to speak to NFL officials back in January about insights into the Pats' taping procedures, but attorney Michael N. Levy, a white-collar crime specialist with the Washington-based firm of McKee Nelson, continued negotiating with the league until Walsh was provided full indemnification against possible lawsuits, absent intentional untruthfulness.
"I am pleased that we now have an agreement that provides Mr. Walsh with appropriate legal protections," Levy said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Walsh is looking forward to providing the NFL with the materials he has and telling the NFL what he knows."
The eight-page agreement requires Walsh turn over to the NFL any documents, including videotapes that relate to allegations of videotaping Patriots opponents, by May 8. His legal counsel, Levy, is allowed under the agreement to retain a copy of his document, though the materials can not be used for commercial purposes or in a manner that could "reasonably be expected to be disparaging to the NFL." Nor may Walsh or his attorney make documents available to a third party without the league's consent.
The agreement fully indemnifies Walsh and holds him harmless against all claims, losses, liabilities, attorneys fees, costs [including travel expenses] and reasonable lost wages as a result of his former employment with the Patriots and subsequent cooperation in the NFL's videotaping investigation.
Walsh is also required to refrain from seeking commercial gain from his involvement until fulfilling his obligations to the league. In an interesting twist, the agreement spells out that any financial gain Walsh realizes related to his involvement in Spygate over the next five years must be donated to a charity selected by the NFL and approved by Walsh.
The agreement also stipualtes that Walsh must meet with the NFL before being interviewed by any third party, including the media. "Accordingly, Mr. Walsh will not be making any statements at this time," Levy said.
The drawn-out negotiations between Levy and the league's outside counsel, Gregg Levy [no relation], presumably also representing the Patriots' interest, finally closed in on a deal over the past two weeks.
The question now is whether Walsh has first-hand insight or video evidence to advance the story. Walsh has suggested he has video tapes and the agreement is written with that assumption. But if he does have tapes, what do they reveal? And how much more damaging would it be for the Patriots and Belichick?
There's also the issue of what light, if any, he can shed on allegations that the then-underdog Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams
' walkthrough the afternoon before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. Rumors of the taping first circulated shortly after the Spygate incident last September, and were reported by the Boston Herald, citing a single, unnamed source, on the eve of the Super Bowl.
The Herald story cited an unidentified member of the Patriots' video staff as having filmed the Rams' final practice. Other media outlets subsequently connected Walsh to the alleged taping. ESPN.com, however, has been unable to confirm that the taping took place.
Asked about the rumored taping, Walsh told ESPN.com: "Really, it is nothing that I care to go on the record about or talk about."
Ever since his name surfaced, the league and the Patriots have minimized Walsh's significance to Spygate, while continuing to hit on the theme that the matter has been thoroughly investigated and that it's time to move on. Back in September, the league took away the Patriots first-round draft pick [31st pick in Saturday's college draft], while levying a $500,000 fine against Belichick and a $250,000 fine to the team.
The story has been kept alive by Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican leader of 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. After initially describing the illegal taping as very limited, Goodell later revealed that Belichick had admitted following the same taping practices since he took over the Patriots in 2000.
Specter has been vocal in expressing frustration with what he views as stonewalling tactics by the league and its teams. His staff has approached individuals with both the Patriots and Jets, only to be told by team attorneys that they would not cooperate with his investigation.
Specter will not be part of the NFL's interview of Walsh, but he and his staff will meet with him later in Washington.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.