Curran: So what's the endgame in the Foxboro Cold War?

Curran: So what's the endgame in the Foxboro Cold War?

With Tom Brady in Qatar having his family’s April vacation chronicled by Tom vs. Time producer Gotham Chopra, you know we’re going to get a much more intimate and revealing look at what his April mindset really is. 

With Rob Gronkowski in Texas acting as a human water ski you know we’re going to get . . . more enigmatic and entertaining social media posts. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the Patriots are beginning preparations for 2018 still without knowing whether both or either will be back this season. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter mentioned on Wednesday what we’ve noted often this offseason: We all expect Brady to play, but he hasn’t since the offseason began, really committed. 

His last on-the-record comment uttered during the season that he’d be back has been followed by ambiguous statements since about fun, appreciation and a nagging question of “why” he does all this

And I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that this is an attempt -- one week before the draft -- to smoke Brady out. It’s one thing for us to report locally that it’s been impossible to “ferret out an answer that Tom Brady is going to play in 2018” as we did last week on Quick Slants The Podcast:

It’s another thing entirely for Schefter -- owner of the biggest bugle in the business  -- to wafflingly report that Brady hasn’t committed to playing. That’s going to cause pearl-clutching from Anaheim to Augusta, Maine. It ratchets up the heat a bit on Brady. OTAs started this week and the team has no indication? The draft is in a week and they don’t know? They traded Jimmy Garoppolo and there’s no hard answer? For one of the NFL’s most committed players, ambivalence does nothing for him in the court of public opinion (fleeting as that jury is). Worse, it doesn’t help his off-field brand with TB12 Sports Therapy. It’s also bad for the franchise to not know whether its figurehead is returning. Observe that when Schefter’s source catalogs the reasons Brady might be wavering, there’s no mention of a Brady-Bill Belichick rift and the very real power struggle that’s ongoing. 

As this continues to play out, we continue to not only wonder what the endgame is but why? And who’s winning or deserves “blame?”

Our podcast this week went deep on a number of items with Jerod Mayo and the ongoing Foxboro Cold War:

Two main items of note:

-- First, if Danny Amendola feels somewhat betrayed by the still-unexplained benching of Malcolm Butler, what of Brady? And the rest of the team that is now returning?

“There are only two people that know what happened: Bill and Malcolm,” said Mayo. “I’ve had conversations with multiple guys on the team and no one knows."

Is this the biggest hurdle Belichick’s faced?

“I think so. Being able to rally the troops around this one common goal of getting to the Super Bowl while (players are thinking), ‘If we get there, how do we know you’re not going to pull this again?' that’s always going to be back of the players' minds as well. For the most part, players don’t play for the coaches. You play for the guy -- corny as it sounds -- you play for the guys next to you. And those guys will find a common ground to rally around. This can be terrible for the franchise for the foreseeable future, or they can just plow through it.”  

-- Meanwhile, here’s Mayo on the importance of OTAs to the team. 

“I remember when Bill, every offseason, the first thing he would say to the team was, ‘Hey guys, we’re not doing this, ‘I’m here this week, I’m gone next week . . . ’ Either you’re here or you’re not here. we’re not doing the back and forth.’

"So someone’s gotta bend here. Either Bill has to bend and say, ‘Guys, come on back home, you can come in.’ Or he can all of a sudden, iron fist drops and a nuclear bomb goes off. Either you’re in or you’re out. Timing doesn’t matter as far (what the team is doing). If Tom and Gronk aren’t here next week, they’re done for the whole offseason. Or, Bill has changed his ways a little bit. There’s been a little compromise."

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Complexity of Gronk situation reflects bigger issues facing Patriots

Complexity of Gronk situation reflects bigger issues facing Patriots

At some point, Rob Gronkowski has to articulate what the endgame is.

Because what we’ve got now is a wildcat strike being carried out by a guy who is wavering about continuing to play because he’s A) concerned about his long-term health, B) unfairly compensated or C) weary of the stifling atmosphere under Bill Belichick.

The streetlights have come on, Gronk’s dinner’s already been scraped into the garbage, all the other kids are upstairs doing their homework and Gronk still hasn’t come home. It’s getting dark.

We’ve all been reduced out here to reading smoke signals on social media.

The latest was a retweet of a Deion Sanders mini-rant:

OK, so it’s about money. But is it also about atmosphere and culture? Is it about being “FREE” and “HAPPY” as Gronk implored Danny Amendola to be when the wide receiver lit out for Miami?

Well, yes it is.

Part of Gronk’s off-field brand is built on the premise he’s an oversized pubescent dope who blunders into soft-core trouble because he just can’t help himself. And Bill Belichick has been the perfect foil for that persona, playing Sergeant Carter to Gronk’s Gomer Pyle while Tom Brady’s the big brother/protector who’d love to act out like Gronk but just doesn’t have it in him.

But the joke, apparently, isn’t as funny as it used to be. Or maybe it never really was. Whatever the case, there’s no mistaking that, over the past year, we’ve seen the most vocal and obvious uprising against Belichick’s “Do Your Job” “No Days Off” iron-fist rule.

It was one thing when it was Adalius Thomas was sending verbal harpoons at Belichick a decade ago, or Randy Moss using his postgame press conference to whine about his contract in 2010, or Wes Welker making foot jokes, or Logan Mankins calling out the owner.

The pushback now is being led by Brady. And it’s not about one thing, it’s about everything. It’s about the culture. A culture we’ve all celebrated for nearly two decades as being the reason the Patriots from 2001 through 2019 will be the standard by which all American sports dynasties are measured.

But when the player whose buy-in is most important -- Brady -- begins an open revolt, then what? What changed? Who changed? How many teammates agree with him? What next?

In Tom vs. Time, Gisele Bundchen stated that her husband just wants to go to work and have “fun” and be “appreciated.” The inference is obvious. He isn’t feeling either of those. And the fact he took the initiative to get that out there (though it would be most effective if he articulated it clearly himself) emboldened others.

Gronk is the one most obviously emboldened and his situation is ongoing.

But Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Nate Solder -- all free agents who departed this offseason -- laced their praise of the Patriots program with laments about how hard it was to play here.

Solder:

Before I tell you what happened next, I need to let you know a little about what it’s really like playing for the Patriots.
It can be a tough environment. It’s very businesslike, and at times it can be cold. Everything in New England is predicated on performance. It’s a place where people sometimes treat you differently based on how you practiced that day or how you answered a question in a meeting. One day, you could walk around the facility feeling like a Pro Bowler — the next, like you’re about to get cut.
I don’t mean that to sound harsh or negative. It’s also an incredible place to play, and I’m grateful for the years I spent there. It’s just that it could be tough sometimes. The Patriots have set a standard, and the pressure is very real. That’s the culture they’ve built — a winning culture — and it’s why they’ve been so successful.

Amendola:

"I understand Bill [Belichick] runs a tight ship, and he hasn't been known to pay his players, really. I understood that I gave money back to him so I could play for him and play for my teammates and fulfill my side of the contract, and at the end of the day, I had faith that he was going to give me an opportunity to stay,"
"It's not easy, that's for sure. He's an a--h--- sometimes. There were a lot of things I didn't like about playing for him, but I must say, the things I didn't like were all in regards to getting the team better, and I respected him. I didn't like practicing in the snow, I didn't like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn't easy, and he'd be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn't easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony."

Lewis:

"I just wanted to be a place where I felt comfortable and felt wanted. That's what I felt (in Tennessee) so I'm going to work to make this situation right."

Obviously, we’ve all known that the grind in New England has always been very real. But the fact so many players are speaking on it is unusual.

Still, if the “cultural issues” were confined to a few very important players growing weary of Belichick’s bedside manner, it would easier to believe the problem was easy to quarantine.

But Amendola’s comments to Mike Reiss on the Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler hint at a more widely-shared belief on the team that Belichick’s iron fist did real damage.

"I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn't on the field," he said. "To tell you the truth, I don't know why. I did ask, but I didn't get any answers. I can't make decisions like that, so I don't necessarily worry about it, but I know Malcolm is a great player and he could have helped us win. For whatever reason, he wasn't out there . . .

 “Nobody really got an explanation for it. He's a brother of ours. He was a brother of ours that year. And I hate to see a guy who worked so hard throughout the season not get a chance to play in the biggest game of the year and really get no explanation for it. With that said, I don't know how the business aspect went into that decision. I don't know how the personal aspect went into that decision between him and Bill. But as a friend, I would have loved to see him on the field that day."

If Brady, Gronk and assorted other Patriots are pissed at the exile of Alex Guerrero or find their off-field “brand” stifled, that’s an issue but it doesn’t really rise to tearing at the fabric of the team.

And it’s not breaking news that the Patriots can be tight with the contractual dollar and really demanding on their employees. That’s barely an issue.  

But Amendola’s comments on Butler make it clear that he felt -- at the very least -- let down by the decision to bench Butler. At worst, he felt betrayed.

If one of the Patriots’ most loyal soldiers of the past six seasons felt that way, how many others feel that badly or worse?

The 2018 season unofficially begins this week with voluntary workouts. But it feels like there’s still so much unfinished business left to address from 2017.

Maybe that’s why the reason for Gronk’s absence and pinning down his endgame is so difficult.

It’s a little bit of everything.

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Belichick's way of solving Guerrero issue didn't solve anything

Belichick's way of solving Guerrero issue didn't solve anything

One week after making a series of ridiculous catches against the Steelers, Rob Gronkowski made a spinning, one-handed touchdown catch against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

These were the kinds of catches that I thought, prior to 2017, were well in his rearview mirror. Before being forced to have another back surgery after a 2016 injury against the Jets, Gronk looked to be in decline.

He was lumbering. Robotic. He went to the ground with all the grace of a steel girder.

But the two-week span against the Steelers and Bills, in which he caught 18 of the 21 passes thrown his way for 315 yards, showcased the mobility and pliability work Gronk did with Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s body coach and Brady’s business partner at TB12 Performance Center.

I’ve seen -- and paid for -- Guerrero’s expertise at TB12. Two of my three sons have seen him for sports injuries as well and I recommend him freely. So there’s your disclaimer.

After the Buffalo game, I went to Gronk’s locker to ask him about the catches he’d made.

I mentioned Guerrero but, given the in-season swirl about Guerrero being exiled from the Patriots sidelines and team planes and player access to him being reduced to off-site visits, Gronk didn’t want to get into the training.

But when I asked him about the shoetop catch he made against the Steelers, Gronk stepped back from his locker bent forward and touched his toes. “I couldn’t do that before without stretching. I don’t hurt now.”

The inference was obvious. He moves better and feels better after spending more time on flexibility, diet, rest and nutrition than he previously had.

Gronk spent his life subscribing to the same training his father, Gordie, espoused, an approach that worked well enough to create a small fleet of NFL players.

The switch to Guerrero’s resistance-band based workouts was a sea change but Gronk bought in and the results by the end of the season were apparent.

They weren’t so apparent during training camp, though. That’s something I’ve alluded to during this offseason.

Gronk struggled early in camp. He played poorly and he knew he was playing poorly. His body didn’t feel right. During that period of time, Gronk was called out by Patriots coaches in front of teammates. His training switch was derided.

That didn’t go over well with him. And it still sticks in his craw. He was doing what he felt was best for him and his body and it was being mocked.

The Gronk dustup was part of the landscape which led to Guerrero being exiled. When two of the team’s most important players are eschewing the strength coaching that the rest of the team is required to do, that’s going to go sideways with the head coach. And it did.

But changing the rules surrounding Guerrero -- who’s been around the team since 2005, when he began training Willie McGinest -- didn’t sit well with Brady.

While Guerrero is at the center of this tug-of-war, what’s truly at issue is less about him and more about philosophy and control.

It’s old-school weight training vs. new-school pliability and flexibility.

It’s a soft-tissue expert (Guerrero) vs. on-staff strength coaches paid by the team that are working in concert with the trainers and medical staff.

It’s a player -- albeit a very, very important player -- wanting the latitude to do his training his way and the coaching staff pushing back, believing it’s a bad precedent to set having a few players doing their own thing.

The resolution from Belichick resulted in Guerrero being marginalized at precisely the time Brady and Guerrero were promoting the TB12 Method empire. And that resolution didn’t really resolve anything.

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