Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Nov 2010

NFL Investigating Broncos For Videotaping 49ers [UPDATE]

The Denver Post reports that the NFL is currently investigating the Broncos for allegedly videotaping the walkthrough of the San Francisco 49ers before the two teams' recent game in London.

Director of Video Operations Steve Scarnecchia, son of long-time Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, has been placed on a "personal leave of absence" as the charges are investigated. Scarnecchia was linked to the Patriots "Spygate" scandal as well, although he was actually the Jets Video Director at the time of the incident. As Mike Silver of Yahoo said at the time:

Sources say he once had the same duties that landed Estrella in spilled water last Sunday and that Scarnecchia was the one who trained Estrella to clandestinely compile the verboten footage in the first place.

Scarnecchia's LinkedIn profile suggests that he worked for the Patriots between 2001 and 2005; he left the team in August of 2005 and took a position with the University of Colorado for one season before being hired by the Jets when Eric Mangini took over. He spent 2006-2009 with the Jets before moving to Denver to work with Josh McDaniels.

The videotaping of the walkthrough is alleged to have happened on October 30, the only day where both the 49ers and Broncos were in the same area for training.

As punishment for the first incident, Commissioner Roger Goodell stripped the Patriots of their first-round pick in that year's draft, fined the organization $250,000, and fined head coach Bill Belichick $500,000. At the moment, a similar punishment would strip the Broncos of a pick towards the bottom of the top ten in the first round of this year's draft.

UPDATE: And hours later, the investigation is over. The NFL has fined both Josh McDaniels and the Broncos organization $50,000 each, and the Broncos have terminated Scarnecchia for cause.

Jason LaCanfora reports that Scarnecchia brought the tape to McDaniels's attention, but McDaniels declined to view it. McDaniels didn't immediately inform the NFL of the tape's existence, which is why he was fined. Team officials found out about the tape's existence on November 8th, at which point they began their own investigation and contacted the NFL.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 27 Nov 2010

71 comments, Last at 30 Nov 2010, 11:54am by Nathan


by loneweasel (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 12:19pm

How did that Marx quote go?

"... the second time, a farce."

A cheap, sad but uproariously hilarious farce.

by Pass to Set Up ... :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 7:07pm

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

It's from Marx's "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", written in 1852.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 12:24pm

Can't we just fast forward to 2011 already?

by PerlStalker :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 12:49pm

I'm sure McDaniels will make someone a very fine coordinator next year. He certainly won't be coaching the Broncos.

by JonFrum (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 12:56pm

In order to get the 'landed Estrella in spilled water' line, you need to read the linked Yahoo Sports article. Worth reading, if you can stand any more on the dreaded spygate topic.

by Nathan :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 12:59pm


by VinnyMurphSully :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:25pm

Like rotten fruit from a sh*tty tree...

by TheSlinger :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:41pm

McDaniels has been fined $50k (from Schefter's twitter).

So apparently cheating = leading with the helmet.

by Marcusm :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:50pm

One can only imagine what the fine would have been if McDaniels would have given Singletary a concussion by hitting him in the head with a camera!

by Benjamin Light (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:46pm

Maybe they just wanted to document what the worst-coached and least-prepared team in the league does during their walkthrough. I'm sure if they steal MIke Singletary's game plan, it will just be a hand-scribbled note that says "hit them in the mouth," along with a drawing of Mike in a bears uniform with a cartoonishly over-sized penis.

by Mr. Show (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:48pm

52% of Broncos fans want Tim Tebow to start. Over Kyle Orton.

by fek9wnr (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 1:51pm
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 2:03pm

I can see it. Maybe not quite yet, but when the Broncos are mathematically eliminated, might as well test the rookie. Orton is still the starter, and still will be in 2011, but might as well get a sample of Tebow. Whats the worst that can happen? A top-5 pick?

by Noah Arkadia :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 1:32am

And how would that help McDaniel? Us fans are too idealistic, coaches are far more practical, in a selfish sort of way.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 8:00am

Oh you're right, it won't happen. The original poster pointed out that a big percentage of the fans wanted Tebow to start, and I kinda sorta agreed with them.

by Shattenjager :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:04pm

Broncos fans always hate their quarterbacks, with the exception of the Second Coming of Favre and John Elway in his last season.

by Basilicus :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 2:25pm

So that's why they're so good.

by Deelron :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:12pm

When cheating in the future I suggest only recording teams who are actually good.

by Jayson Werth (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:13pm

Curious, what was FO's take on the spygate scandal in '07 and how much actual benefit it had for the Patriots? That was before I saw the light and began reading this fine site.

by dmb :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:18pm

There was no "FO take" because each of the site's contributors are capable of independent thought. I don't remember any of the writers addressing the topic at length, but I can say that most readers/commenters seemed to get to the point where they wished the topic would just go away so that they could talk about something else.

by Eddo :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:27pm

That's about right. FO opened up a catch-all thread for commenters to discuss the topic, since it was polluting all other threads.

by Jayson Werth (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 3:30pm

Thanks for the enlightening reply. I understand each of the site's contributors have different takes...but on certain subjects they most definitely come to a consensus. A team that won 3 super bowls in 4 years loses a 1st round pick because of the seriousness of the penalty and they had no opinion?

by BSR :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 4:31pm

Just search for the old thread if you really want to know.

But here is a simple gauge of the effect.

Pats FO offensive ranking before spygate:
2000 #21
2001 #11
2002 #9
2003 #14
2004 #3
2005 #7
2006 #4

Pats FO offensive ranking after spygate:
2007 #1
2008 #8
2009 #1
2010 #1

by Purds :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 2:41am

Not sure the fancy Latin term for your choice of numbers, but perhaps these numbers might better explain the FO observation of a positive change in NE's offense pre- and post-spygate?

(These are the top 10-15 players based on cap value/cost to the team that year; not a perfect measure, but nonetheless revealing.)

NE spent little on offense "pre-spygate" and had a weaker offense:
2001: 3 of top 10 salary cap players played offense
2002: 4 of top 10, 5 of top 15 played offense
2003: 4 of top 10, 5 of top 15 played offense
2004: 2 of top 10, 4 of top 15 played offense
2005: 3 of top 10, 4 of top 15 played offense
2006: 4 of top 10, 6 of top 15 played offense

Post "spygate," NE spent much more on offense, and had a better offense:
2007: 5 of top 10, 8 of top 15 played offense
2008: 5 of top 10, 9 of top 15 played offense
2009: 7 of top 10, 8 of top 15 played offense
2010: 6 of top 10, 9 of top 15 played offense

So, while there is some validity to your suggestion that taping coaches didn't help NE, I'll suggest the turnaround was more about paying for top-flight offensive players instead.

In case you're wondering about the D:

Pats spent much more heavily on defense pre-"spygate":

2001: 7 of top 10 salary cap players played defense
2002: 6 of top 10, 9 of top 15 played defense
2003: 5 of top 10, 9 of top 15 played defense
2004: 7 of top 10, 10 of top 15 played defense
2005: 6 of top 10, 10 of top 15 played defense
2006: 6 of top 10, 9 of top 15 played defense

Post "spygate," NE spent much more on offense.
2007: 5 of top 17, 7 of top 15 played defense
2008: 5 of top 10, 6 of top 15 played defense
2009: 3 of top 10, 7 of top 15 played defense
2010: 4 of top 10, 5 of top 15 played defense

by BSR :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 1:54pm

That's also an extremely flawed measurement. Consider this for instance, three of the top 10 cap hits for offensive players in 2010 are Light, Brady and Faulk. All three were on the 2001 team and but weren't included in the top 10 cap hits then. So is it that they acquired better players or that those players just moved up the pay scale?

Also consider the actual talent. Here is a comparison of the 2004 talent versus the 2010 offensive talent position by position.

QB: Brady vs Brady
RB: Dillon, Faulk vs Green-Ellis, Woodhead
WR: Branch, Givens, Brown, Patten vs Branch, Welker, Tate, Edlemen
TE: Graham, Furia vs Crumpler, Hernandez, Gronkowski
OL: Light, Andruzzi, Koppen, Neal, Gorin vs. Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal, Kazur

So where is this influx of highly paid talent on offense?

So no, I wouldn't say your "analysis" is really any more insightful.

by Purds :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 4:55pm

In 2004, they were #3 in offense. Sure, no change. What about in 2001?

by Purds :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 5:04pm

Anyway, I think it's pure rubbish when NE defenders like to act as though NE received no benefit from taping signs. If it was so useless, why did NE do it for several years, keep doing it after the NFL expressly forbade it, and then accept the NFL's precedent-setting penalty of a 1st round pick being taken away without a whimper?

Now, I'm not saying the taping taints NE's Super Bowl wins, but the taping clearly gave NE an advantage. Anyone who has used video to analyze any physical action knows that it's much easier to understand what you're seeing when you can play it over and over, or slow it down, as opposed to trying to see something with the naked eye, which is what all the other teams were doing.

by PatsFan :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 7:19pm

1) On the other hand (I do agree there had to be some benefit or else why bother), why did the pre-Jets teams that caught the Patriots doing it (and multiple pre-Jets teams did catch the Patriots doing it) not bring it to the commish and instead simply asked the Patriots to turn the camera off and/or ejecwst the cameraman but did not take it any further? Apparently they didn't think it was a big deal (Heck -- one of the films shows Herm Edwards waving to the cameraman. Of course, that was Herm Edwards).

2) which is what all the other teams were doing. - talk about being hopelessly naive.

by Jerry :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 9:43pm

Making a formal complaint to the Commissioner would be like calling the cops on your neighbor. If you can go next door, ask them to turn the music down, and get results, you can still act friendly the next day.

Because of the NFL's structure, the teams that asked the Pats to turn the camera off could also inform the league office informally, and the Football Operations department could tell the Patriots to knock it off without anything formal or public. It's easy to imagine that many problems are handled that way, and league meetings are that much more cordial thanks to these backchannels.

by Purds :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 2:51pm

"talk about being hopelessly naive"

You're right, from a Pats perspective. Anyone not bending the rules is naive. Of course.

What was that saying former Pats players have: if you weren't cheating, you weren't trying.

by Nathan :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 3:07pm

i think ya'll should take this discussion over to espn.go.com

by BSR :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 6:40pm

In 2001 they were pretty much just a rushing team with a middle of the pack offense. I had picked 2004 because that was their best year of performance.

As for the reasoning of why did they do it if there was no benefit, I think the answer was that there obviously was some benefit to it. However, the same logic can be applied, and ask if Belichick thought he was doing something so illicit then why would he be so brazen about it? He didn't need a cameraman on their sidelines doing it.

I think in the end, it was as you say a more effective way to analyze game film. However, if stealing signals were so effective they could still legally do it with a pair of binoculars and a lap top. That would be perfectly legal by the rules.

by RickD :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 11:17am

BB thought he'd found a sneaky way to circumvent a poorly-written rule. And then he ignored the rule clarification from the commissioner's office.

by BSR :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 3:11pm

And I just remembered, that FO did do one analysis of the subject here:


by MidnightAngler (not verified) :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 9:55am

now do the same thing for the pats defense.

by nuk :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 4:31pm

What stood out to me is that they didn't make Bellichek an option for "worst coach of the year" in their annual voting. I certainly would have voted for him.

by JonFrum (not verified) :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 8:04pm

You had a vote?

by Eddo :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 9:10pm

Yes. At the end of the year, FO always allows reader voting on various awards.

by RickD :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 11:18am

You thought the coach of a 16-0 team should be placed on the ballot for "worst coach of the year"?

Trumpet your irrationality if you wish, but don't pout if others don't agree with you.

by dmb :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 4:41pm

It's true that there is some consensus here, but I'd say that it tends to be about analytic approaches to the game. The strongest consensus you'll find here will be about the sorts of things that are covered in the "FO Basics," and even some of those aren't uniformly supported by all writers or regular commenters. So when it comes to subjective opinions about specific events, it's somewhat unlikely that you'll find a real strong consensus.

Anyway, I'm sure a lot of the writers have some opinion or another on those events; I just don't remember most of them being expressed here. FO's analytic approach doesn't really provide any special insight in the realm of ethics, so it's the sort of thing that falls pretty far outside the focus of the site.

by Dean :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 11:03am

Can we just put the link to the old spygate thread on the main page and move this regurgitation there?

by Dave0 :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 5:47pm

I like how tough the league is on leading with the helmet, and then they come up with this tissue-paper response.

Video with intent in violation of league rules, lose a first round pick, bar none. If Steve Scarnecchia getting the axe isn't enough to ensure this, announcing the policy will be.

by BSR :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 6:23pm

Except in this case, the team came forward with it and clearly didn't use the film. This was clearly a case of an employee making a mistake and the fine seems reasonable.

by Dave0 :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 2:40pm

The policy would serve as disincentive for hiring serial "mistake"-makers in the first place. You think that's a bad thing?

by The Hypno-Toad :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 11:43pm

"Video with intent in violation of league rules, lose a first round pick, bar none."
Except, of course, that that wasn't even the case in the case where a team *did* lose a 1st round pick for a similar infraction. If the Patriots had missed the playoffs that year, the penalty would have been a second round pick. I was pretty outraged about that caveat at the time, which is why it has stuck with me.
But in any case, the phrasing of the penalty clearly indicated that the league considers violations of this type to be worth a draft pick roughly between 21st and 52nd.

by Dave0 :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 2:40pm

I did not know that.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 3:11pm

Actually, I thought it was: "Make playoffs, lose 1st round pick. Miss playoffs, lose 2nd and 3rd round picks".

by The Hypno-Toad :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 3:25pm

Maybe so. I thought I had this remembered right, but I have seldom been accused of being the sharped crayon in the box. But in any case, the Broncos' obscenely low-numbered first round pick this year should be safe... Maybe he'll once again ignore the glaring weakness in the defensive front 7 and take another project qb or something.
Honestly, when one of my friends texted me that the Broncos were being investigated in something that could result in the loss of a first round pick, I was alomst relieved. Watching McDaniels use first round picks is something like standing around and getting repeatedly kicked in the shins. I am terrified of the amound of failure he could pack into a top 5 pick.

by tunesmith :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 7:33pm

Not that I'm all that interested in defending McDaniels right now, but this is notable, from the official NFL report:

"Our investigators immediately and independently interviewed Coach McDaniels and did so under circumstances that would have made it impossible for him to have spoken to Mr. Scarnecchia in advance. (It is also significant that your staff had not previously discussed the matter with Coach McDaniels; thus, his meeting with NFL Security was the first time that he had been questioned on the matter.) Coach McDaniels recounted essentially the same sequence of events as Mr. Scarnnechia had previously disclosed -- namely, that Mr. Scarnecchia had come to him and advised that he had recorded the walk-thru, and that Coach McDaniels told Mr. Scarnecchia that he was not interested in watching the tape and did not do so.

by mawbrew :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 4:09pm

Well, the NFL has a vested interest in minimizing this, just as they did in the original Pats investigation. Given that the NFL was notified by the Broncos, it's impossible for the NFL to say with any confidence that the Broncos didn't warn McDaniels of their plans to come clean. This would have given them plenty of time to get their stories straight. I'm not claiming this is what happened just that the NFL's statement that it was 'impossible' for them to have spoken in advance, just isn't credible.

by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 7:52pm


didnt read whole thing yet buyt broncoos chestingh and still losing. that's worth one extra bolttle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale tinight. Havent l;aughed this hard soince Raiders pulverized zzbroncis 59-14.

memo to mcdamiels & co.- cheat vs Raiders leafing up to Week 15 game annd maybe abronocs keep within 30 piints of Raiders thaT TIME AROUND.

by Steelersteve (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 8:17pm

So should we assume that the Raiders didn't cheat vs. the Steelers this year?

by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 8:23pm

Raiders didnt chest, just stunk that day. Hsappens to all good teams niw and again.

by JonFrum (not verified) :: Sat, 11/27/2010 - 9:33pm

Yeah, but what does that have to do with the Raiders?

by chemical burn :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 12:48am

Really? Steelers fans are on here taunting Raiders fans? It seems like they should concentrate on not getting blown out by their real competition like, say, the Patriots before they go around blowing hard at teams dragging themselves out of the dregs...

by Jerry :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 5:35am

Every now and then, we have to take a break from fretting about how the Steelers are only tied for the best record in Pennsylvania.

by dmb :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 11:37am

I just don't understand why anyone would try to taunt raiderjoe.

by Steelersteve (not verified) :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 12:14am

Good point. It would be nice if the Steelers could play a decent game vs the Patriots for a change, or even a second half vs the Bills. I definitely appreciate Raiderjoe's posts, but I was surprised that anyone (even RJ) would talk about blowing out Denver right after their own team lost by 32 (to anyone).

by dmb :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 10:36am

It wouldn't be Raiderjoe if he didn't talk about the Raiders' vast superiority to their lowly division rivals.

by billycurley :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 1:30am

This reminds me of that time the Washington Generals were caught taping the Clippers' practices. Everyone had a good laugh, then went out and lost by 30 to their next opponents.

by slipknottin :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 4:26am

Obviously a misunderstanding. The DC said they need to spy Troy Smith, McDaniels thought he said spy ON Troy Smith.

by TimK :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 6:08am

Thanks for the link, Tunesmith.

Reading the report it looks as though Scarnecchia took a few minutes of footage whilst setting up his equipment to be ready to record the game. I can understand him following the action on the pitch to check angles of shot etc, but he seems at best an idiot for actually pressing 'record' at some point, and even worse for not then simply deleting what he took immediately. The rare circumstances of being in a neutral and unfamiliar venue presumably gave excuse for him to spend longer setting up (I'd expect stadium facilities for such taping at venues frequently hosting NFL games to be more standardised or at least easier to set up).

It looks fairly likely that no benefit was gained. The report does not state exactly how the Denver Executives were informed after the game. If they were informed by McDaniels (who else was aware of the tape?) then I can understand a coach being more concerned with getting the game preparation done than potentially causing that kind of distraction before the game.

The NFL report seems very clear that it seems to been an opportunistic act by a single employee, who has now been fired. The small fines make the point that even an unplanned, unauthorised and unused taping is still a breach.

It actually seems a case of good management by the NFL to deal with this quickly, comprehensively and relatively quietly. Comparing it with things like certain athletes high-profile drug tests etc, it seems to have been handled very efficiently.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 1:55pm

Dear god people are naive.

by Yaguar :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 6:38pm

Am I the only cynical one who thinks that McDaniels probably was aware of what his own employee was doing for team purposes?

McDaniels is in charge of the Broncos operation, and even if (and I'm not sure I believe this) he didn't know this was happening, he is still responsible for it. And he's a repeat offender.

I think he comes off really scummy here.

by Led :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 10:56am

I don't think that's cynical at all. It's the most reasonable conclusion.

by greybeard :: Sun, 11/28/2010 - 6:57pm

I watched the tape: it is four minutes of Gore running up the middle for no gain and two minutes of Singletary yelling at a Newcastle United fan.

by MJK :: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 8:43pm

I guess I'll weigh in quickly here, against my better judgment.

1). I'm very surprised the fine is so light. At the time of the SB after spygate, when the false accusations of the Patriots taping the Rams' walkthrough were put forth, Goddell was very specific in stating that taping a walkthrough was quite a bit worse than recording defensive signals, and that, if the allegations were true, the Patriots would be much more severely disciplined than they were. More severely than loss of a 1st round pick and $750,000 in fines.

And now the Broncos get tabbed for doing exactly what Goddell had spelled out as being more serious, and get $100,000 in fines, fire an employee, and get and nothing more.

Why the disparity between what Goddell said about the severity of taping a walkthrough and what he actually imposed? I can think of three reasons, all of which I think have some truth:

* As stated, the Patriots' taping activities, while individually less severe offenses than taping a walkthrough, were systematic, ongoing, involved many people in the organization, were done with the blessing of the head coach, and done even after a rules clarification was issued directly at them. The Broncos' violation, while potentially conferring quite a bit bigger a an unfair advantage, was a one-time thing done by a lone individual (allegedly) without the blessing of the head coach or the organization. Hence it was more forgiveable.

* The Belichick-led Patriots were a highly successful organization with an impressive resume and multiple SB wins. The McDaniels-led Broncos are kind of pathetic and sad, and lost the game that they taped the walkthrough of.

* I still maintain that the bulk of the severity of the sanctions against the Patriots can be interpreted as Goddell not saying "you broke the rules, here is the penalty", but rather telling Belichick personally "You're an arrogant a**h*le who made me look bad and messed up my 'tough sheriff in town' persona, so take this". In other word, Goddell is less interested in fairness and consistence and more interested in looking like he's tough on crime.

2). I honestly don't know what to think about whether McDaniels knew about the taping, or ordered it. On one hand, I'm friends with a friend of McDaniels (though I don't know him personally), and have only ever heard good things about him personally...hard to picture him as a cheater. This jives with what Peter King said about him this morning. On the other hand, the culture in New England that he was trained in is to push every rule to its limit and take any advantage, however small, and exploit it to within an inch of the limits. I like to think that he didn't order the taping and was horrified when he found out that it happened...but maybe I'm just naive.

3). I still maintain that anyone that thinks it is only the Patriots (and now the McDaniels-led Broncos) that attempt...questionable means of advantage, is extremely naive themselves.

by Alex51 :: Tue, 11/30/2010 - 12:52am

I guess I'll weigh in quickly here

You must have a different definition of "quickly" than I do, because to me your post looks more like the response of a student asked to write a 500 word essay on Spygate 2: Electric Boogaloo.

That said, I agree with most of what you said in part (1), I think you're being a little naive in part (2), and part (3)...sure, lots of people cheat, but if you say, "But all of my married friends at work are banging their secretaries, too" when your wife catches you in bed with another woman, I don't think she's going to find your logic all that compelling. And not everybody cheats the same amount, and people/teams that cheat more often have more opportunities to be caught, and so, ceteris paribus, are more likely to be caught cheating.

by Yaguar :: Tue, 11/30/2010 - 3:30am

I'd like to question (3). If it's something that "everyone" does, what are the odds that only Belichick coaching tree guys get caught?

by Nathan :: Tue, 11/30/2010 - 11:54am

fwiw both Jimmy Johnson and Mike Ditka have gone on record that it *used to be*, at the very least, a widespread practice