With a bye week this week before the Patriots play their first opponent next Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, Seth Wickersham of ESPN helped ensure that the Patriots’ time away wouldn’t be dull after the article the website released on Friday.
In the piece, Wickersham looked deep behind the scenes into what he believes has been a difficult year “in the building”, referring to Gillette Stadium. We’ll get into a bit of this below but it’s safe to say that as much as there were things that sounded relatively off base, there are also things that matched what we’ve previously already heard. So here are some thoughts as we try and make a little sense in today’s edition.
1) The Guerrero Angle Isn’t News – Reading Wickersham’s piece, it was hard to come away with anything that was new and ground-breakingly believable enough to change a lot of the opinions that already exist, especially as it pertains to Alex Guerrero.
We know that the Guerrero situation came to a head this season, which was previously reported by Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe and followed up a previous ESPN report by Tom Junod and Wickersham insinuating that there was a problem that had Bill Belichick and the trainer on a “collision course”. Guerrero’s methods are most definitely unconventional and from what we’ve heard – and this is plausible enough to agree with – a conflict seemingly began to build between his methods and the ones recommended by the team’s training staff. It reportedly eventually led to a point where Belichick finally established a firm line between the football team and the TB12 Center, removing Guerrero from the day-to-day happenings at the stadium and his ability to be directly present on the sideline on game days, with the exception of being able to train Tom Brady directly.
Internally, Friday’s piece from Wickersham highlighted that conflict a bit further, revealing that some players, particularly the younger ones, felt like they were caught in the middle in terms of getting treatment from just the team’s training staff, or following the lead of other players close to Brady who were being treated at the TB12 center. In Wickersham’s piece, he wrote, “players openly discussed with Patriots coaches, staff and trusted advisers whether to follow Brady or the team, leaving them trapped: Do we risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful coach or risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful quarterback?” These concerns seem plausible and probably added to the frustrations Belichick may have with the quarterback’s trainer.
As a result, that part of the article seems believable and it’s probably a distraction Belichick wasn’t happy about. Brady’s also a very loyal individual and he’s probably frustrated with also being caught in the middle, especially since his friend and business partner has been alienated by the coach who he himself has to answer to. Both reports from ESPN and the Globe indicate that they believe it’s enough to drive a wedge between the two most important people on the team, but that seems like a bit of a reach. While it’s a likely a frustration both aren’t happy about, it seems unlikely to derail a relationship that spans nearly two decades. That’s the biggest part of the speculation that just seems to edge things a little too far and one most fans likely have a hard time wrapping their brain around.
Kraft and Brady have always had a strong relationship.
2) Wickersham swung and missed badly on Brady contract extension insinuation – One mention in Wickersham’s piece on Friday revolved around the fact that he insinuated that Brady’s two-year extension that he received in early 2016 was a result of the veteran QBs “belief that he was still not on the downside of his career” and that he was “deserving of a new contract”. Wickersham also felt the timing was part of their eventual plan with Garoppolo, who was drafted in 2014.
According to Wickersham, Brady’s agent, Don Yee, began negotiating a new deal, causing Belichick and other Patriots staff “to leave the NFL combine in Indianapolis early to be part of the process.”
Wickersham indicated that the two-year contract Brady received “was designed to set up 2018 as a key year, when the team could, in theory, look at a 41-year-old Brady and his $22 million cap hit and decide if it made sense to transition to Garoppolo.”
What he seems to forget is that the timing of the deal had more to do with the upcoming potential suspension for Brady, which instead of costing him $2 million in salary, ended up costing him $235,294 in lost salary as the team lowered his base salary from $9 million in 2016 to $1 million, protecting him from the financial loss of missing the first four games of that season.
So as far as the ulterior motive that he’s suggesting, this one doesn’t make any sense. The timing of the end of the deal may have coincidentally fallen with the final year of Garoppolo’s deal, but knowing the real context of why the deal was done with DeflateGate, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than what we know coming out of that and how it protected him when Brady made his decision to end his legal battle.
The DeflateGate situation is what really lead to Brady’s 2016 extension.
3) Debate About Brady’s frustration and “Patriot of the Week” might be true – but overblown – One part of the piece that was also curious was the fact that Wickersham wrote that as Brady has gotten older, “he’s become an advocate of positive thinking” and that “Belichick’s negativity and cynicism have gotten old.”
“He feels he has accomplished enough that he shouldn’t have to endure so much grief,” writes Wickersham. “Patriots staffers have noticed that, this year more than ever, he seems to volley between unwavering confidence and driving insecurity. Brady has noted to staff a few times this year that, no matter how many game-changing throws he makes, Belichick hasn’t awarded him Patriot of the Week all year.”
That last sentence led to a firestorm on Twitter as many of the local beat writers contested that notion, saying that no such award exists and questioned the validity of that part of the report.
I’ve never heard of a Patriot of the Week. If that meant practice player of the week, the honor applies almost exclusively to scout-team players, which would eliminate Brady from the selection process. https://t.co/A5kruDLS0F
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) January 5, 2018
Wickersham appeared on DHK on WEEI on Friday afternoon to discuss his piece, with host Dale Arnold calling him out on the award saying, “You know that doesn’t exist, right?”
Wickersham disagreed, citing his unnamed sources in the report.
“That’s from people in the building,” said Wickersham. “That’s something that Tom has remarked to a lot of people in the building. He last won it in the AFC Championship game last year and he has mentioned that he hasn’t won it this year. I think to add context to that, I think after 17-years of Belichick’s coaching style, which is very intense, it’s bracing, he puts a lot of pressure on guys and I think that Tom feels like, ‘I’ve been dealing with it for this long, does it really have to be this way?’ and he has not been shy in voicing that opinion. Is it a situation where Tom doesn’t want to play for Bill anymore just because of this, or something like that? Absolutely not. Has it worn on him? Yes.”
Mike Lombardi, who appeared earlier in the day on OMF on WEEI confirmed that such an award does indeed exist, which backs up Wickersham’s claim.
“Yes, I think that ultimately, that’s about the guy that represented, for the week, everything that the Patriots stand for, which is being selfless, which is doing your job,” said Lombardi. “When I was there it was, I don’t know if it still is now, but sure it was when I was there. It’s symbolic of the job the player does, and if you go to anybody, it’s not really directly reflective of the actual performance of the game but it’s the performance of how it demonstrates a player being what truly a Patriot player represents, which is a good thing.”
“I don’t know how they decide. I’m sure the Patriots have given out game balls. See, what happens in that situation is you either win Player of the Week, or the game ball, or you win Patriot of the week. You don’t get all of them. So I think it’s kind of spread out that way.”
This news of Belichick still being tough on Brady isn’t news either. New York Post writer Gary Myers documented in his book “Brady Vs Manning, The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL,” how “Belichick would intentionally resist praising Brady for individual records, finally relenting only when he surpassed 50,000 yards.”
“Former cornerback Aqib Talib told ESPN of one day in practice when Brady threw an interception on a seam route, and Belichick exploded at him in full view of everyone, ‘You got 130 career interceptions and half of them are on this route. You keep doing the same s— over and over and this is what happens.'”
“When you’ve been doing this a lot of years, you don’t expect to keep taking shots,” Tom Sr. told the Washington Post. “On the other hand, there is a process to team-building. If any player on the team holds himself out to be better than somebody else, then the team-building is not solid. If you can shoot the big dog, all the other dogs in the pack are going to pay attention. . . . And the players love it, because it signals that they’re all in this together. . . . When he gets knocked down, they all kind of revel in it.”
As a result, it’s hard to dismiss the notion that Brady might be a little frustrated over not getting recognized for his strong performances. At the end of the day as much as he loves the game, like any other profession, there are probably aspects of the job which at times can be a little irritating. Whether or not Brady venting at a given moment to whoever the unnamed source was should be taken at anything beyond that is probably the one thing that people can debate. But it’s certainly part of the article that is seemingly getting blown out of proportion.
Brady and Garoppolo seemed to have a good working relationship during their time together.
4) Garoppolo Being Locked Out of the TB12 Center Seems a Bit Far-Fetched – While it’s possible to debate both sides of Wickersham’s article, the part about Garoppolo being locked out of the TB12 Center and being denied treatment seems a bit far-fetched.
“But after Garoppolo was knocked out of his second start because of a shoulder injury, he set up a visit at TB12,” wrote Wickersham. “As he later told Patriots staffers, when he arrived, the door was locked. He knocked; nobody was there. He called TB12 trainers but nobody answered. He couldn’t believe it, Garoppolo told the staffers, and that night ended up visiting team trainers instead. Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player, and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 — but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.”
Knowing the type of player and person Brady is, it’s hard to imagine this type of conspiracy theory is anything more than a misunderstanding. Upon further review, other local beat writers also dismissed it, citing sources familiar with what actually happened.
On Jimmy Garoppolo and the TB12 Center: Sources tell me that Garoppolo was going there to receive treatment before and after his shoulder injury. He even had his own passkey to enter the facility.
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) January 5, 2018
As a result, that’s probably one of the more questionable things Wickersham was told by the sources in this story and it’s hard to imagine Brady being bitter enough where either he or Guerrero would have condoned that.
They might not be buddies, but any “rift” is probably exaggerated.
5) Belichick/Brady Relationship rehashes other reports, But Garoppolo Trade “Mandate” Seems Unlikely – While Belichick and Brady obviously have a mutual respect, it’s no secret they’re not buddies off the field and don’t spend a lot of time together if it doesn’t involve football matters.
Their relationship has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as people try and make sense of the Jimmy Garoppolo deal and the potential “rift” that some seem to believe exists thanks to some of the issues they feel stems from it. Most fans believe there’s nothing to see here and that the two are close enough where this shouldn’t even be a point of discussion, but that’s not entirely true.
It’s something those in the know have mentioned repeatedly about them, with Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston writing recently, “Brady and Belichick have always had an employee-boss relationship. It’s not frigid, but it’s not warm either.”
Brady’s father, who would obviously know even further, said as such directly in an interview last January.
“They have never even gone out to lunch or dinner,” he told Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. “That’s not what they do.”
To complicate matters is obviously the fact that Belichick really held Garoppolo in high regard, to the point where for the first time in his coaching tenure he mentioned Garoppolo in the same breath as Brady while actually putting the now-former Patriot at Brady’s level in terms of what he saw from his play on the field.
“If you’re missing the quarterback then, you know, you can still get it and certainly we have a good quarterback in Jimmy [Garoppolo] and Jimmy can go out there and run everything that Tom can run,” said Belichick back in November of 2016. “We’ve seen that, so I’m not saying that he’s not capable or qualified to do it. He is, and he does a great job of it and when we put Jimmy in there it’s really seamless. Unless you were actually looking at the position, if you just could block out that position and say which guy was in there at quarterback, I don’t know if you would know a lot of times.”
That was quite the ringing endorsement and Garoppolo’s departure simply came thanks to the fact the timing didn’t quite work out since Brady is still playing at a high level and it’s impossible to keep two players of that caliber on the roster at the same time.
But Wickersham believes, like other reports have insinuated, that the trade of Garoppolo came due to a “mandate” from Robert Kraft after the two met to discuss the future of the position.
“Two weeks before the Nov. 1 trading deadline, Belichick met with Kraft to discuss the quarterback situation,” wrote Wickersham. “According to staffers, the meeting ran long, lasting half the day and pushing back Belichick’s other meetings. The office was buzzing. The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job.”
The “mandate” seems unlikely and other local writers have each shot that down. It’s been mentioned before in this space, but the more likely scenario was the fact they did meet to discuss it, and simply reached the conclusion that as much as they probably would have liked to hold on to Garoppolo, the timing just wasn’t there because Brady was just playing too well, and keeping him here while waiting for the veteran to decline just wasn’t viable.
Belichick said as much following the move.
“It is just not sustainable the way things are set up,” said Belichick following the trade. “Not something we wanted to walk away from. I felt we rode it out as long as we could, over a period of time, explored every option possible to sustain it. At this point, felt like we had to make a decision. [It’s a] very complex situation on multiple levels. This is really the last window that we had, we did what we felt was best for the team. There were many things involved in this whole process.”
As for the Kraft pushing one way or the other, he may have said he’d prefer to stay with Brady until he can’t do it anymore, but it was likely nothing more than that. We know how high of a regard he holds for the man who has won him 5 titles. One would have to believe he wouldn’t force him into doing anything.
Meanwhile, another thing that’s been mentioned is whether or not the discussion of moving Brady ever actually happened when Belichick spoke with 49ers GM John Lynch. Apparently it did happen, but strictly in jest. According to a report back in November, Lynch called Belichick when he initially inquired about Garoppolo and was shut down, but he then proceeded to call him back and ask about Brady. Belichick certainly didn’t seem like that was even a possibility.
“Belichick just said, ‘What did you just ask me?” Jay Glazer reported via 49ersWebZone. “[Lynch] said, ‘I’m asking if you’d trade us Tom Brady. You said Garoppolo is off-limits. [Belichick] said, ‘Did you just ask me if I’d trade Tom Brady? Did you just ask if I’d trade the greatest quarterback of all-time? And John said, ‘So is that a no?'”
But in terms of the Garoppolo trade being forced on Belichick, Wickersham’s latest insinuations on this topic don’t differ that much from what we’ve already heard. However, that leads next to where all of these little tidbits stemmed from. Like previous stories, there were no direct references to any particular individual, with all sources “unnamed”. Wickersham did say that a lot went into this article in terms of fact gathering from his various sources, admitting that it took a lot of early morning breakfasts and late night dinners away from the stadium for him to gather the information he obtained over 8 weeks before putting this together.
“I’ve had prominent media members with excellent ties to the Patriots back up that piece of reporting also,” said Wickersham. “I was trying to not speculate. I was trying to report as best I could. I had a lot of 5 o’clock breakfasts in places around Foxboro and 10:30 at night dinners in steakhouses 15 miles away for the past 8 weeks trying to do my very best to get to the bottom of what’s going on in that building. It’s not a secret that things have been really bad this year.”
The team denied the “really bad” part of that statement, releasing a joint statement by the Kraft, Brady and Belichick Friday afternoon downplaying much of his report.
“For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship,” said the statement. “In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat-out inaccurate. The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years. It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”
Expect that to be the statement they each refer to when they return next week and start being hammered with questions.
Winning is now Brady’s only option.
6) Either way, Brady is Backed into a Corner For the Rest of His Career – Brady finds himself in a really bad situation to close out his career, which is really, really unfortunate and shouldn’t be the case.
Looking back to the beginning of the year when he sat down with Peter King to discuss his future, Brady seemed excited about what the last few years held for him and sounded really confident, saying that he had no intention of retiring because he finally “had the answers to the test” and that he was able to tap into all his years of experience to help make him successful. Coming off the win over the Falcons, he was extremely candid during a two-part interview with King, saying that his experience made his job easier and it was a nice change from the early part of his career where he wasn’t able to decipher things.
“You can’t surprise me on defense. I’ve seen it all,” said Brady. “I’ve processed 261 games, I’ve played them all. It’s an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience in their job, it’s not as hard as it used to be.”
“There was a time when quarterbacking was really hard for me because you didn’t know what to do. Now I really know what to do, I don’t want to stop now. This is when it’s really enjoyable to go out.”
Instead, even though Garoppolo is gone, there will now be the section of his fan base lamenting over his former teammate’s success while viewing anything short of a Lombardi trophy as a failure. That’s a bar that sets him up to fail and while they still may win one – or more – during his final years as quarterback, it appears the benefit of the doubt among fans and media is beginning to shrink, which is a little hard to believe given his contributions over his career.
As a result, that may affect just how “enjoyable” these final few years will be. That’s how it goes when you’re the best in the game. At the end of the day, Brady unfortunately, has put himself in this position. Had Garoppolo not gone to San Francisco and reeled off five straight victories, it’s possible we’re not having this discussion. Instead, the fans Garoppolo built here have quietly spilled over into the ones who will root for Brady until the point if/when he ever comes up short.
The only way to win them back and quiet the doubters is to just keep winning, leaving Brady under more pressure than ever over these next few weeks to once again prove everyone wrong.
Those who have followed him may wonder why the best player in the game has never wavered in his approach and continues to work just as hard now as he did when he started. It’s because just like when his career began, the doubters and skeptics never really go away.
Needless to say with the playoffs looming, even with all the noise that’s transpired this season, the job at hand is the only distraction Brady likely needs to keep his mind off of it.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary