Do we want to do «blame» or do we want to do «reasons»?
We can do both but – out of respect for the end of the greatest run by any franchise in NFL history – I’d rather lay off the blame for why Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot.
Let’s stick to reasons.
One thing, though? Tom Brady didn’t «decide» to leave the Patriots. That’s for sure.
He decided to leave the same way a person «decides» to get out of the car when it pulls into the driveway, is put into park and the engine is turned off. Ride’s over. Time to get out.
The Patriots made very clear to Brady over the past few years that they weren’t in it with him for the long haul anymore.
They made it clear before the 2018 season when – instead of the extension he’d been trying to extract – he was given some incentives to hit in order to sweeten his salary.
At the time, a source texted me, «Remember, this is a club that would not pull the thorn out of the lion’s paw if presented with the situation.»
He didn’t hit any of those incentives.
Before the 2019 season, it took Brady seriously considering walking out of training camp before the Patriots gave him a raise and agreed to remove the franchise tag for 2020.
«Year-to-year! Year-to-year! Everybody wants to be year-to-year!»
That was the buff-and-shine put on the lack of a deal taking Brady through to the end of his career.
No, the Patriots wanted to be year-to-year. Brady – in asking to have the tag off the table – was only leveling the playing field by making it so that he had the same control over his future the Patriots had been exercising.
If the ride weren’t over, if Bill Belichick wasn’t ambivalent about re-upping with Brady for his 43-year-old season, there would have been an offer made over the past two months since the season ended.
There would have been more than just one phone conversation. There wouldn’t have been an intimation that the first move in negotiations needed to be made by Brady.
The door for Brady was left wide open. He just walked through it.
Doing that – leaving the door open – is Belichick’s right. Further, that fiscal responsibility is his duty. It’s a large part of why the team has been able to go on and on and on at the top of the league. They never got themselves over a financial barrel with one player the way so many other teams have.
That raise the Patriots gave Brady last August actually flew in the face of their economic philosophy because it threw $13.5M worth of dead money forward into the 2020 season.
Philosophical differences. That’s why Tom Brady’s not a Patriot anymore.
Bill Belichick couldn’t get his brain around paying a player born in 1977 as if he were born in 1997.
Brady couldn’t get over the fact that – after all the years he’d spent showing his DOB didn’t matter – his bosses just wouldn’t believe it.
I do think the timing of Brady’s announcement is telling. He waited to make sure an offer would crystallize – and it did with Tampa Bay and the Chargers.
And then – with no offer and no effort from the Patriots – he could tell them that enough was enough. He was not going to go back hat-in-hand at the end of the week and ask if New England wanted to match.
The Patriots had their time. Their silence spoke volumes.
Today’s announcement by Brady was well-orchestrated in that it allows the news to stand alone and be processed (as much as any sports news can «stand alone» with a pandemic sweeping the planet).
The two decades preceding deserves that.
Watching this unfold over weeks, months and years, it became hard at times to comprehend the emotional distance Belichick almost always maintained from Brady.
We’d get press conference odes to Brandon Bolden and verbal bouquets thrown to Patrick Chung or Devin McCourty and on down the line. Brady? Shrugs. Generalities. «Tom always does a good job. Always prepared. Like a lot of our players.»
That wasn’t just at the podium. You could see during their NFL 100 appearance together on NFL Network that Brady still looked to Belichick for validation 20 years on.
That Brady recalled what Belichick told him in a limo the day after Super Bowl 36 – «Tom, just want to let you know you had a pretty good year» – illustrated what that relationship was like.
It is what it is and Brady managed OK. But for a person who appreciates positivity and optimism, one could see where Brady would over the years wonder if his coach could throw him a frickin’ bone.
Their relationship was akin to those hug-free, father-son relationships from the 1950s where the kid is never sure if his dad truly loves him. Only later does the kid find out how much he really meant to the old man.
Reading Belichick’s statement today on Brady today felt a little like that.
Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation. Tom’s success as a player and his character as a person are exceptional. Nothing about the end of Tom’s Patriots career changes how unfathomably spectacular it was. With his relentless competitiveness and longevity, he earned everyone’s adoration and will be celebrated forever. It has been a privilege to coach Tom Brady for 20 years.
Examples of Tom’s greatness are limitless, going back even before he was drafted. We witnessed how he prepared when he wasn’t playing, how he performed when he got his opportunity, what he did to continuously improve, his leadership, his mindset, the example he set, and of course, the person he is. I am extremely grateful for what he did for our team and for me personally.
Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.
I’ll be on TV and radio and right here on your internet talking about this non-stop over the next few weeks and months.
And I know that a lot of what I say will get into speculation of who did what wrong to get to this point. Blame-laying.
But I swear to God I won’t forget the reason there’s any discussion of blame at all 20 years after Bill Belichick drafted Tom Brady is because of the thousands upon thousands of great things they did together that deserve hours and hours of crediting.
I am staggeringly lucky to have been front-row for all of it.
Why did Tom Brady walk away from Patriots, Bill Belichick after 20 years? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston