As probably the biggest New England sports fan in these parts, what do I think of the blockbuster piece on espn.com by Seth Wickersham reporting there are cracks in the Robert Kraft-Bill Belichick-Tom Brady alliance that has won five Super Bowl titles and is shooting for a sixth in this year’s NFL playoffs?
Much ado about….not quite nothing.
The article begins with a dramatic recounting of a sideline skirmish between quarterback Brady and his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. Or as anyone who’s ever been on an NFL sideline would call it, Sunday. Yes, players yell at coaches and coaches yell back at players, even on good teams. The article also quotes nobody on the record. Granted, it might be a bit difficult to find someone in the Patriots orbit willing to take sides in what appears to be a Brady vs. Belichick power struggle, but anonymous sourcing leaves the reader wondering, who said it? Did he have his own ax to grind? Did anyone say it at all or did the author make up quotes to spice up his story?
The story describes a sadness around Patriots headquarters, driven by the realization that the end of the dynasty could be near. All sports dynasties come to an end. This one will, too. It’s been a remarkable run and it will be sad to see it end. All in all, I think the article takes the fact that one way or another, the end of one of the great sports dynasties is near and tries to make it into a morality play, with heroes and villains.
Remember, the Patriots dynasty came in two parts, the three titles in four years early in Brady’s career, then, after a ten year title drought, two more amazing Super Bowl wins in the last three years. Had those last two championships not been won, this drama would probably already have played out by now.
Here’s what you need to know about Brady and Belichick. Tom Brady has repeatedly said he would like to play until he’s 45. He turns 45 at the beginning of the 2022 season. That’s five more years. He has a somewhat controversial personal trainer and believes he can be a championship-level quarterback for that long. One of the rifts pointed to in the article is between players who embrace Brady’s training regimen and those who prefer the team’s own, more conventional methods.
Bill Belichick’s first head coaching job was with the Cleveland Browns. He did not believe quarterback Bernie Kosar had what it took to win a championship, feeling his skills had declined too far. Problem is, Kosar was the face of the franchise, a fan favorite and a favorite of team owner Art Modell. When Belichick came to New England, he vowed he would never let sentiment get in the way of evaluating players. Remember, Brady got his chance when Drew Bledsoe, face of the franchise, fan favorite and owner favorite, went down with an injury. When Bledsoe was healthy enough to play again, Belichick went with the quarterback he thought gave him the best chance to win and the rest was Super Bowl history. Belichick has had no problem parting with key contributors if he felt they could no longer contribute or if he felt he could move them for someone else who could.
Bottom line, Tom Brady thinks he can be a championship quarterback for five more years. Bill Belichick most likely doesn’t agree. At the end of this season, owner Robert Kraft will either allow Belichick to trade Brady to a team that will use him to sell tickets and dream of one more season of Brady magic, a la late career Petyon Manning, or he will not and Belichick will retire. My money says Brady stays, Belichick leaves and the new Patriots coach will have a 41 year old quarterback who thinks he’s more important than the coach. What could possibly go wrong?