The Patriots always have stressed that their NFL success is all about the next man up. It appears likely they’re going to find out whether that applies to replacing their marquee star.

Tom Brady was sacked for a huge loss Monday when a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 he must serve the four-game suspension imposed by the NFL.

People may be tired of the never-ending Deflategate saga. But you’d better strap on your seat belt, because it might not be over. According to several media reports, Brady is considering his legal options – even if his chances of success appear slim.

“I think we’re going to be talking about Deflategate for a couple more months,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports law analyst with the Becker & Poliakoff legal firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Brady has 14 days to file for an en banc hearing – meaning the case would be heard before the full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Wallach said he could even see the case going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s not just about deflated footballs,” he said. “It’s about the scope of arbitrator’s power under collective bargaining. It could have an impact in many other cases not involving football. It addresses important issues relating to labor arbitration.”

High-profile cases tend to attract more legal attention. And few cases could have a higher profile than the NFL trying to suspend one of its largest stars.

“The case has bucked trends in Round 1, it has bucked trends in Round 2,” said Wallach. “I would not be surprised if this case has more life breathed into it by an en banc hearing or the Supreme Court.”

Still, Wallach said the likelihood of the case advancing is slim. “During the decade from 2000-2010, the 2nd Circuit only reheard eight cases.

“If you’re asking me if I expect Tom Brady to suit up in Week One of the NFL season, I don’t expect to see that.”

So if Brady’s suspension remains in place, will the Patriots be ready to play without him?

After opening the season in Arizona on Sept. 11, their next three games are at Gillette Stadium – against Miami, Houston and Buffalo. It’s not an imposing schedule, but the Cardinals and Texans were playoff teams last year and the Dolphins and Bills are AFC East rivals.

With Brady, you could see the Patriots going 3-1. Without him, they could still go 3-1. Many fans would settle for 2-2.

And that’s not bad. Twice before, in 2014 and 2003, the Patriots began the season 2-2 and ended up winning a Super Bowl. They were even 1-3 in 2001, which ended with Adam Vinatieri kicking a last-second field goal to beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots have only one other quarterback on their roster right now – third-year pro Jimmy Garoppolo. He was primed to step in last year before Brady’s suspension was vacated by a district court judge just before the season opener.

Given Garoppolo’s lack of NFL experience – 11 games, 31 passing attempts, 20 completions, 188 yards, one touchdown – it’s likely the Patriots will try to sign a veteran backup, just in case.

And there are plenty of free agents available.

Start with Brian Hoyer, the former Patriot backup who was recently released by the Texans after they signed Brock Osweiler. Hoyer knows the system. Bill Belichick has great respect for him. Hoyer, however, might want an organization where he would have a chance to be the full-time starter, not a fill-in backup.

There’s always Matt Flynn or Ryan Lindley, both in the Patriots training camp a year ago. Ryan Fitzpatrick is highly unlikely because his price tag will be too high. T.J. Yates, Tavaris Jackson, Bruce Gradkowski, and Charlie Whitehurst also are out there.

That Monday’s ruling comes days before the start of the NFL draft works in New England’s favor. If the Patriots weren’t looking to draft a quarterback – and most indications are that they would be in later rounds – then they certainly will be now.

The Patriots don’t have a first-round pick this year – another Deflategate casualty – but they have two seconds, two thirds, five sixths and two sevenths. There should be several prospects in Rounds 3-7, including Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Cody Kessler (USC), Jake Coker (Alabama) or Jeff Driskel (Lousiana Tech). There are options.

And it’s likely the Patriots are going to have to find someone to fill the void left by Brady in those first four games because the odds of a legal victory are no longer in his favor.

“They are markedly worse than they were yesterday,” Wallach said Monday. “Yesterday he was a successful litigant. Today he’s a loser on appeal.”


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