In an echo of the New England Patriots' "Spygate" scandal, the NFL is investigating whether a Broncos employee videotaped a San Francisco 49ers walk-through at London's Wembley Stadium four weeks ago.
Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis confirmed Friday that Steve Scarnecchia, the team's director of video operations, is on a "personal leave of absence" while team and league officials investigate the matter, but he declined to comment further. Scarnecchia did not travel with the team to San Diego last weekend and has not been at the team's Dove Valley complex this week.
The Broncos are actively working with the NFL on the investigation, according to team sources. Reached at his home Friday, Scarnecchia declined tocomment. League spokesman Greg Aiello also declined to comment. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels could not reached for comment Friday afternoon.
McDaniels and Scarnecchia both previously worked for the Patriots, Scarnecchia between 2001 and 2005 and McDaniels between 2001 and 2009 before being hired by the Broncos. In 2007, the Patriots were found to have videotaped New York Jets coaches sending in signals during a game between the two teams, which is against league rules.
Following a league investigation, commissioner Roger Goodell stripped the Patriots of their first-round pick in the 2008 draft. He also fined the Patriots $250,000 and fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000.
McDaniels hired Scarnecchia to run the Broncos' video operations shortly after he accepted the job in January 2009.
Upon his formal introduction as the team's 12th head coach, McDaniels was asked about the effect of "Spygate" on his candidacy for the job, as well as whether either Broncos owner Pat Bowlen or Ellis asked him about Spygate during either of his two interviews with team officials.
At that time McDaniels said: "That situation was something that happened. I was not aware of that. I wasn't aware of it and all the things that did happen in terms of that whole scenario. It really didn't affect us, to tell you the truth. It was all about preparation and trying to do whatever we felt was best that week. It really didn't have anything to do with that.
"I don't think it is good. To have that kind of attention was a distraction, and I think that is how we all treated it. We tried to do the best we could to limit those distractions every week, and it will be no different here. Certainly we are never looking to do anything that is not within the rules established by the National Football League. They determined the punishment on that, and it was what it was and we moved on."
The NFL's current investigation revolves around practices held by the Broncos and the 49ers on Saturday, Oct. 30, in Wembley Stadium. Both teams were allotted time to hold walk-through practices at the stadium that day. It was the only time while the two teams were in England that they would have used the same facility to practice on the same day. Teams normally bar anyone not associated with the team from watching practice. Taping another team's practice could result in a severe penalty from the NFL.
The next day the 49ers defeated the Broncos, 24-16. Denver enters Sunday's game against St. Louis at 3-7.
Scarnecchia continued to perform his usual day-to-day duties after the team's return from London but was not on the team's chartered flight to San Diego last Sunday and has not been seen on the practice field this week.
U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, in a statement on the Senate floor dated May 14, 2008, made specific references to Scarnecchia regarding what he termed "extensive videotaping of opponents' offensive and defensive signals" by the Patriots between 2000 and 2007. Specter was relating interviews he had with a former Patriots employee, Matt Walsh.
The NFL punished the Patriots for the scope of taping it believed occurred over several years.