By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) - The New England Patriots have asked the NFL for permission to reinstate two low-level employees implicated in a league report in the deflation of footballs used by quarterback Tom Brady in January's AFC title game, the league said on Wednesday.
Equipment assistant John Jastremski and locker room manager Jim McNally were suspended without pay by the Patriots in May following an investigation into whether the footballs the team provided for the game were inflated below league standards.
McNally and Jastremski, key figures in the "Deflategate" scandal, likely participated in a plan to release air from the balls after they were examined by the referee, according to the report by Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the league.
The NFL has rules on the minimum amount of air in footballs. Underinflation can give a quarterback a competitive advantage by making it easier to grip the ball, especially during chilly conditions like those in the AFC title game in which the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed the league had received and was reviewing the Patriots' request.
The report detailed what Wells described as incriminating texts by Jastremski and McNally, and in one of them, McNally called himself "the deflator." The report concluded Brady was "at least generally aware" of the deflation scheme.
The Patriots' request to the league to reinstate McNally and Jastremski came after a federal judge in New York last week vacated the National Football League's four-game suspension of Brady due to "several significant legal deficiencies," including a failure to notify Brady that football deflation could be punished by suspension. The league has appealed the ruling.
The NFL also fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks. The Patriots have denied wrongdoing.
If Jastremski is reinstated, he would be barred from having any role in the handling or supervision of footballs to be used in games during the upcoming NFL season, the league said.
The NFL said if McNally is brought back he would not be allowed to serve as a locker room attendant for the game officials and would be barred from handling any equipment on game day, including footballs.
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent would have to approve the Patriots bringing back the two employees, the league said in May.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington)