Patriots

Curran: Uncharted territory - Tom staying away because he's Brady

Curran: Uncharted territory - Tom staying away because he's Brady

Today was the start of the Patriots first OTA workouts. It’s another 2018 offseason checkpoint passed with no Tom Brady.

Even knowing a Brady no-show wasn’t just possible but likely, the reality still makes an eyebrow rise.

The reigning king of competitors saying “no thanks” to playing football with teammates on a perfect week in May? It underscores just how dug in Brady is.

On what, though? In the first episodes of "Tom vs. Time", Brady said, "If you're going to compete against me, you better be willing to give your life, because I'm willing to give up mine."

By the end of the docuseries, he’d done a 180 and was openly questioning just why he does what he does.

Brady said, days after the Super Bowl, "When you go, 'What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this?’ You've got to have answers to those questions, and they have to be with a lot of conviction. When you lose your conviction, you should probably be doing something else."

The most benign reading of Brady’s absence is that, “Hey, the guy wants to spend time with his family. He said it’s all about them this offseason. He’s cleared the decks for his wife and kids and is giving them all the time they haven’t gotten in years past. He’ll be there when the bell rings.”

He told everyone this is what he was going to do when he said in that same TvT episode, “This offseason is gonna be about my family, and they deserve it. There's more to think about than just me, and I think that's what you commit to when you have a family. And they commit a lot to me. That obviously goes both ways."

No half-measures. If he says he’s going all-in for the family, he’s all-in for the family. The sun will rise, the sun will set, he’ll keep his body fat low, his arm pliable and when it’s time for the mandatory stuff, he’ll be there.

But that reading is willfully obtuse. All the bread crumbs, tea leaves and smoke signals scream that this work-to-rule approach is more than just being able to be at the bus stop when the kids get home.

The foundation of Brady’s professional identity hasn’t just been work ethic. It’s also about being willing to subjugate himself for the good of the team. Or to allow himself to be subjugated. Team first, Tom second.

The desired impression was that Brady was just another replaceable widget produced on the Belichick Inc. assembly line. But Brady didn’t desire that. And, for the first time, he’s pushed back. Hard. But in a maddeningly murky fashion.

Is it about money and contract?

That seems part of it, given recent comments by Brady’s agent Don Yee that Brady “thinks about” his contract and “management knows this.” Seth Wickersham’s January story about the Patriots power struggle reported that Brady agitated for a new deal with both Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft.

And it’s probably not just the money but the principle of it. If the team could ponder franchising Jimmy Garoppolo at a rate of about $24 million in 2018 or make overtures to him about a bridge contract paying him more than $15M per year and Garoppolo wound up being traded, maybe the guy who helped win those five rings at bargain basement prices should have some of that dough allocated to him?

All the other ambiguous issues related to atmosphere, fun and respect are quite clearly part of it as well.

After Deflategate, a four-game suspension, an upstart over his shoulder, a fifth Super Bowl win, an upstart still over his shoulder despite the Super Bowl win, a tug-of-war over his trainer and a Super Bowl loss that featured an inexplicable benching, the bill came due. And here we are.

Would we be here writing this if Garoppolo had been franchised or agreed to a bridge deal and was in Foxboro taking all the reps? Probably not. Brady’s got leverage and he’s using it. Which, again, is the complete opposite of what he’s outwardly done for 18 seasons.
Based on this, some will suppose that Brady’s radically changed. Others will allege that it was a fable all along. And the rest will applaud him for standing up to Belichick.

Which brings us to the coach.

How will Brady’s decision to withholding services change things? Does Belichick, after some introspection, yield on some things? And which things deserve yielding? Tone? Trainer? Contract?

Meanwhile, does this very public decision by both Brady and Gronk to go their own way chip away at Belichick’s authority? Or have the potential to.   

There have been assorted player crises in the past – Law, Seymour, Wilfork, Mankins, Welker – none came close to being an eye-to-eye power struggle as this is between Brady and Belichick.

And maybe that’s how it gets resolved without there being any greater impact. Brady doesn’t reside in the same universe as his teammates and those guys know that.

Whatever acquiescence there is – money, tone, whatever – nobody’s going to begin a sentence with, “How come Brady...” because they know the answer will be, “Because he’s Brady...”

But even that puts us in a weird spot. Realizing that the bottom line to all this is that the reason Tom Brady isn’t coming in until he has to is because he’s Tom Brady. And it’s never really been that way.

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What Brady's missing in the newest phrase of Patriots OTAs

What Brady's missing in the newest phrase of Patriots OTAs

Tom Brady has opted to stick with the approach he's taken all offseason. He's unplugging. He's staying away from the workplace. For the first time in his professional career, he's not taking part in OTAs. For now, at least. 

Today the Patriots begin Phase Three of of OTAs and Brady, as was also true for Phases One and Two, isn't there. (Neither is Rob Gronkowski. who also has been absent since the beginning.) So what exactly is Brady -- and Gronk -- missing? 

PHASE THREE

Phase Three of the offseason program, which consists of 10 OTA practices, lasts four weeks. The time limit on these voluntary sessions, in terms of the number of hours teams can have players spend at the facility, gets a bump to six hours per day. (Before, in Phases One and Two, the limit was four hours.) 

OTA practices will be held over a span of three weeks: May 21-22, May 24; May 30-31, June 1; June 11-12, June 14-15. Patriots mandatory minicamp last three days, splitting up the OTA sessions: June 5-7. 

Helmets will be permitted during Phase Three, as will knee and elbow pads. Seven-on-seven, nine-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills . . . all good. Live contact, meanwhile . . . not allowed. 

This would be the portion of the offseason program when Brady would be best able to simulate a typical practice setting, with the offense running plays against a competitive defense. The Patriots will likely work on situational football -- red zone, two-minute, hurry-up -- during what is commonly described as "passing camp." 

Though the level of intensity and the timing of offensive plays will change when pads are introduced during training camp at the end of July, passing camp still has its benefits. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels recently described some of the communication elements of the game that can be refined this time of year, particularly during Phase Two and Three. It was part of a broader answer McDaniels supplied when I asked him if Brady's absence from the offseason program will make things any more challenging when he eventually returns. 

"You always evaluate," he said. "When somebody's coming back from an injury or there's something like this, when there's a time period where they're not there. You can never predict how that's gonna go. I think we saw a few years ago, [Brady] came back after four weeks gone" -- at the beginning of the 2016 season, when he served the four-game Deflategate suspension -- "and there wasn't a huge gap there in terms of what he was used to doing. 

"You evaluate where each guy's at, and try to make the best decisions going forward from there, whether it's an injury or something like this where they make a personal decision to do something a little different. Integrating them with their teammates, that kind of happens organically, understanding there's going to be some things you need to work on in terms of communication. But we work on those things from now until the last week that we're playing. Whatever week that is this year, that Friday we're going to be trying to teach and work on communication, trust, signals, body language, verbal communication, all of those things are a work in progress in our game. You never really get to the end. We'll see where everybody's at when they get back and we'll take it from there."

For the first time in Brady's career with the Patriots, coaches are going to have to see where he's at after he's made the choice to skip at least a portion of OTAs and all of Phases One and Two.

Here's what he's already missed:

PHASE ONE

The Patriots offseason program began on April 16. That marked the start of Phase One, which lasted two weeks. As was discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast, when it became clear Brady would not be participating in the early part of the team's offseason program, workouts during Phase One were limited to strength and conditioning activities. When players were on the field during Phase One, only strength and conditioning coaches were permitted on the field. The CBA allows for quarterbacks to throw to receivers with no coverage during Phase One.

PHASE TWO

Phase Two began on May 1 and lasted three weeks. During Phase Two, coaches were allowed on the field with players, and individual drills were allowed. Teams were allowed a max of 90 minutes on the field. Contact was not allowed. Offense-versus-defense and one-on-one drills were not permitted, either. Helmets were also banned during Phase Two. During Phase Two -- as is the case during Phase One -- teams can specify two hours for players to be at the facility. The maximum time for a player to attend offseason activities is four hours per day, leaving players two hours to spend however they see fit.

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