Tom Brady and the NFL clashed in court Wednesday over the star quarterback's four-game suspension in "deflate-gate," and the judge said he saw strengths on both sides of the argument.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman questioned lawyers for the Super Bowl MVP and the league in open court for about an hour and a half, then met with the two sides separately in private.
The NFL players union, representing Brady, argues that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was wrong to suspend Brady and then to uphold his own suspension. Brady insists that neither he nor anyone employed by the New England Patriots did anything wrong.
At the hearing, at a federal courthouse in Manhattan, the judge pressed Daniel Nash, a lawyer for the NFL, on what direct evidence links Brady to the deflation of footballs before the AFC Championship Game in January.
Nash conceded that there was no "smoking gun," but he said there was "considerable evidence Mr. Brady clearly knew about this," The Associated Press reported.
But Berman also sharply questioned Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the union. The judge asked why Patriots employees would have let air out of footballs without the quarterback's knowledge.
Kessler said the union doesn't concede that the balls were deflated at all, but he ventured that a team employee might have done it because he believed it would be "good for his quarterback."
The judge has encouraged the two sides to come to a settlement. Brady and the league both want the matter decided soon: Brady's New England Patriots open the regular season on Sept. 10.
The next court date is Aug. 19.
A crowd gathered outside the courthouse to watch Goodell and Brady arrived. Goodell was greeted by scattered boos. When Brady stepped out of an SUV, someone shouted, "Don't settle, Tom!"
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.