CLEVELAND — Tom Brady is not planning on taking part in any Patriots offseason practices outside the mandatory minicamp June 5-7, according to league sources.
That means, when the 2018 Patriots take the field for the first time in full view of the media on Tuesday morning, No. 12 will not be throwing passes to Julian Edelman, Jordan Matthews, Braxton Berrios, et al. It will be Nos. 2 and 16/58 — Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling.
I never thought I’d see this day (to the point I still think there’s a chance Brady shows up Tuesday). Having covered the entirety of the league on both a national and local level, I’m used to dealing with holdouts and various veteran players taking time away, at least until the real work begins.
The truth of the matter is that for veteran returnees at every position outside of quarterback, there’s very little upside to these sessions. They’ve been around the block, know the playbook and know how to get themselves physically ready for training camp. “Organized Team Activities” is just another phrase for “The Team Wants To Control You At All Times.”
But quarterback is a different beast. It’s been said, especially in regard to the Patriots and Brady, the hardest worker on the team needs to be QB1. He sets the tone for everyone. And, as a result, 31 other starting quarterbacks are with their teams as Phase 3 — the on-field part where the offense can practice against the defense — begins this week.
Everyone but Brady.
It’s amazing and stunning just to type that sentence.
We’ll get into more of the why’s and how’s in a moment. But the bottom line on Brady not reporting until the mandatory portion of the offseason is this: The situation is a bad look for all three members of the Patriots' Holy Trinity — Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft. We’re heading into the final act of the greatest dynasty in modern professional football. And the three men responsible for all that unprecedented success, who will all be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame within 10 years, can’t get on the same page.
That’s just wrong. They’re all responsible for this, and they should all share in the blame.
And they all need to find common ground and most past this — the sooner the better.
Brady has been Brady over the course of his career because he has been different than every other player in the game since he arrived in Foxborough.
He wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said in Tom vs. Time: “If you're going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life, because I'm giving up mine.”
Up until this offseason, he's given up most of his life for the game and since he was drafted, to the Patriots. He is 24/7/365 football, and it has been impressive to watch. The immense dedication and personal discipline it takes to do what he has done is worthy of all the adulation and respect he has garnered over the years.
We’re talking about a guy who has been known to call his offensive coordinator from Costa Rica in the middle of the offseason to request an OTA drill be changed so it could better prepare the team for the season. Long before it became fashionable, he invited his pass catchers to private offseason workouts. And then, of course, there’s his obsession with keeping his body in peak condition. Every waking moment of his adult life has been about preparing for and performing at his best during each NFL season.
Suddenly, now, as he prepares to enter his 19th season, Brady has decided he’s no longer willing to give up his life to get the edge on his opponents? How does that happen? It’s convenient — in the first offseason after the Jimmy Garoppolo trade and with no threat on the roster to take his job, Drew Bledsoe-style — at best. At worst, it's fraudulent for Brady not to be taking part at this time.
The man who was once so singularly focused on football that he refused to do commercials and obsessed with game film and on-field work that he gave up most of his personal life is suddenly is now Mr. Aston Martin/Movado/Uggs and an owner of a growing lifestyle brand (TB12). Now he’s not showing up to the first meaningful drills for the 2018 Patriots? Brady of 2007 wouldn’t even recognize 2018 Brady.
This whole saga has its roots in two places: Alex Guerrero and Belichick not willing to cede one ounce of leverage, not even to his most important player.
We’ll get more into Guerrero with Kraft, but there has to be some compromise available when it comes to Brady’s body coach. (Maybe let him treat just Brady in the facility?) No one would raise a voice if Belichick decided to give Brady’s body coach/confidant/best friend some preferential treatment. Obviously, it went too far with Guerrero influencing other players and putting them in conflict with the team’s strength and medical staff, and Belichick was right to pull back on the reins a little bit. But there has to be some Brady-only concession that would appease everyone in this regard. To this point, Belichick hasn’t been inclined to go there.
And as far as Garoppolo goes, Belichick handled everything perfectly — drafting the successor to push Brady through the latter stages of his career, keeping him as long as possible — until the last calendar year.
It started with the leaks that Garoppolo wouldn’t be traded for four first-round picks. Then Brady didn’t have his contract redone in the wake of another Super Bowl title. Brady, for all he had done for the team (ceding some $40 million in personal money, all the off-field sacrifices), was just looking for a little security to know he would be the Patriots’ starting QB beyond the 2017 season. Garoppolo on the sidelines plus no contract extension equaled Brady thinking it was very possible Belichick wanted to enact his succession plan this offseason.
Belichick could have alleviated Brady's fears by either trading Garoppolo last offseason -- when his value was highest -- or giving Brady a contract extension. Belichick decided to not do either, and botched the Garoppolo trade (a move he didn’t want to make).
As a result, Brady now has all the leverage. And, for the first time in his career, he has decided to use it — likely as a result of the personal affront Brady felt when Guerrero, his business partner and godfather to one of Brady’s children, was treated like a run-of-the-mill body coach.
It didn’t have to go like this. Belichick had to know Kraft would never allow Brady to be traded (and if he didn’t, that was another mistake). The move would have been to either deal Garoppolo last year, or hand Brady his contract extension and proceeded with tagging and trading Garoppolo this year.
Now Belichick has nothing to hold over his quarterback, and is reaping what he sowed.
Throw in Belichick’s decision to bench Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl — and his failure to explain the rationale to key members of the team, which Vince Wilfork and Brady forced Belichick to do in the wake of the Logan Mankins trade — and there’s plenty of blame pie for Belichick as well.
Kraft has longed to be given as much credit as Belichick and Brady for the team’s historic run of success — and his move to trade for Belichick was certainly one of the best singular moves in the history of the NFL. But let’s be honest, Belichick’s brain and system, and Brady’s greatness will always be 1A and 1B for reasons the Patriots have sustained success for so long.
This is once again Kraft’s time to assert his importance over this franchise. And wouldn’t it be fitting that the Belichick trade and the brokering of peace, so the Holy Trio could walk off together into Canton on good terms, came as a result of Kraft’s power of persuasion and influence?
How is it that the man who was at the forefront of ending the 2011 lockout can’t even get his coach and his "fifth son" on the same football field?
Kraft’s fingerprints are in this as well. His reverence of Brady and whatever financial arrangement he has with Patriots Place tenant TB12 started a slippery slope, and certainly factored into the issues with Guerrero.
Because Brady is Brady, Kraft allowed Guerrero to go from run-of-the-mill body coach just like those who work with other players (despite a dubious business history) into a position of influence with Brady’s teammates. Compounding the issue is the fact that he has close proximity to the team and is in conflict with the team’s conditioning and medical staffs. There’s usually a separation of church and state when it comes to the NFL. Players play, coaches coach, and the medical side handles their business. But Guerrero was aligned closely with Brady, who had protection from Kraft, and things got blurred. Can’t blame Belichick for trying to correct a wrong, even though he may have gone too far.
Kraft also inserted himself into the Garoppolo situation. No matter if he personally issued the Code Red or if it was Lt. Jonathan "Kendrick" Kraft or another emissary -- that irked Belichick, and screwed up his plan to tag and trade Garoppolo a la Matt Cassel.
Then there was the return to the flock of Josh McDaniels, which was totally done by Kraft and without much input from Belichick.
Kraft, for too long now, has tried to play the nice guy in all things Patriots. Jonathan Kraft has taken over most of the hard business dealings when it comes to the team. But, even though very soon he'll be running the show, he doesn't have the clout to broker the peace between Belichick and Brady.
RKK doesn't want to tick off Belichick to the point that Kraft creates another Bill Parcells situation. Kraft also could never stomach Brady being estranged from the family.
But this is RKK's team, his legacy. He's brokered a hundred deals more complicated than this. It's incumbent upon him to find a solution that all sides should be able to live with — even if they aren't thrilled with it. He needs to impose his will. His foresight started this brilliant run. He needs to make sure it ends on a note that befits the unsurpassed dynasty they built and sustained together.
Brady, Belichick and Kraft are in this situation because they’ve all, with immortality so close, gone against what got them to this point.
Brady is no longer the football-only machine that delivered the franchise to greatness. Belichick didn’t do what was in the best interest of the team when it came to the Garoppolo trade and Butler benching -- or at least, he hasn’t explained how both were to anyone’s satisfaction. And Kraft allowed one of his businesses to become personal while not giving his manager total freedom to guide the juggernaut he led with a near-perfect track record for 20 years.
The franchise that rose to such dizzying heights because everyone checked their egos at the door for the greater good and in service to the all-important team is now floundering because those egos have been unleashed.
Brady, Belichick and Kraft all have had a hand in the Patriots getting to a point none of us thought we’d ever see — Brady not feeling compelled to practice with his team, while every other quarterback is.
The only way they’re getting out of this, and finishing this stellar run the proper way, is for them to get into a room and solve it together.
Time for the three of them to Do Their Job.