HOUSTON -- Tom Brady’s presence on the website of his agents Don Yee and Steve Dubin is noteworthy for how understated it is.
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There’s no mention of Brady on the home page. When you click on the ATHLETES tab and hit the “FOOTBALL” dropdown, you have to scroll past Kevin Anderson and Josh Boyce before you get to a photo of Brady. The two players that follow: Tyler Bray and Ty Detmer.
It's in keeping with the way Yee and Dubin have managed Brady’s career since he came into the NFL in 2000. Instead of leveraging their relationship with Brady to solicit more work, more notoriety, backslaps, fame and status as “celebrity agents,” they are virtual wallflowers.
The underlying message seems to be that, just because Brady’s won four Super Bowls, appeared in seven and is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, he is no more important to their firm now than he was 17 years ago. Brady’s interests were just as vital and consuming to Yee and Dubin when he was a sixth-round pick and fourth on the depth chart, it seems.
While Brady relies tremendously on both men, it’s Yee that’s been the “voice” of Brady’s career since Brady rose to prominence.
In 2002, when I called Yee after Super Bowl 36 to ask about endorsement opportunities for Brady, Yee told me he wouldn’t be chasing every opportunity. It was important for “Tommy” to not be overexposed, for his affiliations to be carefully chosen and for football to be foremost.
In 2015, Yee called me in after Super Bowl 49 to blast back at the NFL for the way it framed Brady in Deflategate.
Yee doesn’t “play the game” with the media. Over the years, my conversations with him routinely consist of me doing most of the talking and Yee responding with patient, “Mmmm, hmmms . . . ” Often, he’ll tell me I’m a smart person and I should figure it out for myself. Other times, I’ll be the sounding board for his myriad complaints about the way the media does its job and gets things wrong.
He didn’t talk to me for four years after I reported in early 2009 that Brady’s convalescence from ACL repair was behind schedule and could imperil his 2009 season. He never said why but I’m certain it was because Yee felt my reporting wasn’t balanced enough and I didn’t seek more sources beyond the one that gave me a dire outlook. In hindsight, I would have done it differently.
Yee hates sizzle and loathes hot takes. And with that in mind, it’s ironic that he represents not only Brady but Jimmy Garoppolo (and Julian Edelman too).
Brady and Garoppolo on their own can launch 10,000 takes. One is the best ever, his game, future, personal life, relationships, politics and celebrity under constant scrutiny. The other is Brady’s apprentice, with a face off a movie poster, three years in an elite system and enough time on the field during Brady’s suspension to signal that he may be the best quarterback in America not currently starting for an NFL team.
With the two men’s football futures are intertwined in New England, the “What will happen?” conversation is constant. It spiked in the last 24 hours when Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer predicted heavy interest in a deal for Garoppolo on the part of the Browns and others.
Will the Patriots assent to a trade of Garoppolo before the draft? Will they sit on Garoppolo, whose contract expires after 2017, through the summer to see if urgency increases? Will they not trade Garoppolo at all and instead try to extend him to remain Brady’s backup and eventual successor? Will they franchise Garoppolo as a fallback plan to buy time?
And Garoppolo’s situation, of course, is directly impacted by Brady, who will be 40 when next season begins and is signed through 2019. As the Patriots mull their options on Garoppolo, forecasting how long Brady will continue to play at his level of brilliance is a piece of the puzzle.
Yee is a key player in all of it. And his personality is well-suited for what seems a complex situation.
Brady agreed when I asked him this week about Yee having the right mindset to work on behalf of both players without compromise.
“Like a Chinese Wall?” laughed Brady. “He’s got that. He’s very focused on the individual and I think that’s what makes him so good. He can separate the two very easily and he just does a great job.”
The Los Angeles-based Yee has been a key influencer in Brady’s life.
“He’s been a great advisor for me,” said Brady. “He’s always been focused on football. When I got out of college and was looking for someone to represent me, there were a lot of options. He was someone that really had the same goal where I could find the right spot and my career could flourish . . . Whatever your personal goals were, he would support that. [Yee wasn’t interested] necessarily in the goals of what an agent may be, but what your goals may be. My goal has always been winning and he’s tried to support that in the best way he could and that’s why I have so much respect for him.”
Last week, I asked Yee about the Brady-Garoppolo dynamic. He answered, “I’m privileged to have the opportunity to represent both of them.”
There really isn’t much Yee can actively “do” at this point. The Patriots hold the cards. While an aggressive pursuit of Garoppolo is expected, until there’s a trade partner (if there is one) and that team’s plans for Garoppolo are understood, Yee merely waits.
How did Garoppolo come to have the same agent as Brady?
“It goes back to when I was at Eastern Illinois,” Garoppolo explained. “Don is ([Saints head coach and former Eastern Illinois quarterback] Sean Payton’s agent and Sean knows people at Eastern . . . [When] I was coming out, I didn’t know anything about agents or the draft so he helped me along the way. Don reached out to me toward the end of my senior year and I went out and visited their place in L.A. They did everything to a T, perfect and I decided these are my guys.”
Garoppolo said he had no contact with Brady prior to the Patriots drafting him in 2014. While it’s clear Brady has no intention of being supplanted by Garoppolo, he has been a sounding board for the younger quarterback at times.
“He’s definitely helped me with a lot of off-the-field stuff, how to go about things, he’s helped a ton when it comes to money situations, endorsements, he’s been there done that,” said Garoppolo. “To be able to lean on a guy like that has obviously helped me, no question.”
The elephant in the room -- whether Garoppolo will ever see the field in New England -- doesn’t come up.
“It’s one of those things,” Garoppolo said. “We have so many things we worry about on a week-to-week basis, it’s not even talked about. It hasn’t come up in a conversation.”
As for speculation, which Garoppolo can’t help but hear?
“I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge when we get there but now we don’t even glance an eye at it,” he said. “It will be an interesting offseason.”
It will be a process. And Yee will be in a position where his clients -- Garoppolo on particular -- will need to let the process come to them.
How well equipped is Yee to do that? We’ll give Edelman, who’s been with Yee since 2008 when he came out of Kent State, the last word.
“[Yee] is an unbelievable guy. I like to think of him as a little Zen master. It’s like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-type stuff. He keeps my mind right. He knows the Patriots, he’s dealt with them for so long. He knows football, he’s been in the league for so long. Whenever I need to talk to someone I can always talk to Don and he’ll keep me right.”