New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had his four-game NFL ban overturned by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, but the league will appeal against the decision.
The four-time Super Bowl winner had been suspended for his part in last season's 'deflategate' controversy but will now be free to play in New England's opening game against Pittsburgh next Thursday.
Brady led New England to Super Bowl glory last season but the Patriots were subsequently accused of using under-inflated footballs to gain an advantage during the AFC Championship Game, in which they easily defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7.
The 38-year-old quarterback denied any involvement but received the four-game ban after a report into the incident by attorney Ted Wells noted: "It is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities."
Brady appealed and, although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspension, Berman has now ruled against him.
However, the long-running saga may not be over yet as the NFL has already confirmed it will appeal against Berman's decision.
A statement from Roger Goodell read: "We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today's decision. We will appeal against today's ruling to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game.
"The commissioner's responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and the 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end. While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season."
Goodell's ruling, Berman found, was plagued by "several significant legal deficiencies," including a failure to notify Brady beforehand that his alleged conduct could be punished by suspension.
"The court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs," Berman wrote.
Berman also said the Wells Report was not enough to justify the suspension and criticized Goodell for saying that Brady deserved the same penalty as a player who used steroids.
The judge added that Brady's lawyers were improperly barred from cross-examining the NFL's general counsel, Jeff Pash, who helped lead the 'Deflategate' probe, and were unfairly denied access to certain investigative notes.
The decision came after multiple attempts at settlement between Brady, his legal team, the NFL Players Association and the NFL.
The NFLPA responded to Berman's verdict with a statement which read: "This decision should prove, once and for all, that our collective bargaining agreement does not grant this commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading.
"While the CBA grants the person who occupies the position of commissioner the ability to judiciously and fairly exercise the designated power of that position, the union did not agree to attempts to unfairly illegally exercise that power, contrary to what the NFL has repeatedly and wrongfully claimed."