Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft could be headed for a breakup. That’s the big takeaway from the piece ESPN’s Seth Wickersham dropped Friday morning about the troubles within the New England Patriots organization. But there was certainly more to the story than that.
The piece wasn’t quite the “bombshell” it was billed as, instead it was more of a confirmation of things most of us already knew or suspected. There were a few details in the story that stood out, however. First among them is the fact that Brady seemingly went over Belichick’s head to get backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo traded.
The story claims Brady met with Kraft a number of times in October to discuss his desire to play several more years — which would take him into his mid-40s. Belichick also met with Brady that month concerning the same topic, and apparently the meeting ended in a “little blowup.”
Garoppolo was due to be a free agent at the end of 2017 and he had rejected several big-money extensions because the Patriots couldn’t guarantee him a chance to start. Belichick didn’t want to trade his young quarterback and had passed up the opportunity to do so last offseason despite heavy interest.
Two weeks before the November 1 trade deadline — during the same time frame Brady was meeting with Kraft about his future — the owner sat down with Belichick and discussed the quarterback situation for hours — “half the day” is how Wickersham puts it. The meeting ended with Kraft demanding Belichick trade Garoppolo because he wasn’t in the team’s future plans as Kraft saw it.
Belichick subsequently dealt Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick, a trade most believed was a steal for the Niners at the time.
How much did Belichick believe in Garoppolo? He had traded the team’s other backup, Jacoby Brissett, to the Indianapolis Colts in early September because he expected Garoppolo to be around for a while.
It’s also instructive to look at who the Patriots brought in to replace Garoppolo. They immediately signed Brian Hoyer as the team’s new backup. Hoyer is close friends with Brady and is absolutely no threat to his starting spot.
The story also details how Brady and Garoppolo were friendly, but the future Hall of Famer didn’t help his young backup at all. He was closed off to the kid, “even on matters as trivial as footwork.” That’s not a unique dynamic, Joe Montana acted the same way towards Steve Young and Brett Favre was less than warm and welcoming to Aaron Rodgers. But it does show that Brady saw Garoppolo as his competition, not someone he was supposed to mentor. In that context it makes sense he would want to force Garoppolo out.
Wickersham ends that section of the piece with this:
Belichick handled the trade as he always does, by not explaining it to the coaches and by burying them so deep in work that they didn’t have time to gossip. Most in the organization understood that it was an extreme case, with extreme personalities, but they felt that Belichick had earned the right to make football decisions. Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable.
Brady, though, seemed liberated. Kraft hugged Brady when he saw him that week, in full view of teammates. A few days later during practice, some players and staffers noticed that Brady seemed especially excited, hollering and cajoling. Brady was once again the team’s present and future. His new backup, Brian Hoyer, was a longtime friend and not a threat. The owner was in Brady’s corner. “He won,” a Patriots staffer says.
The story does not explicitly state that Brady requested anything of Kraft when it came to Garoppolo. But given the entire story surrounding the Garoppolo trade and the addition of Hoyer, it certainly looks like Brady went over his coach’s head to get rid of his younger competition.