Patriots

Are these Tom Brady's final days with the Patriots?

Are these Tom Brady's final days with the Patriots?

Down at ground level, where you can only see what’s directly in front of you, the concern for the New England Patriots this week is getting from 10-2 to 11-2 against Kansas City.

It’s about bottling up Patrick Mahomes. It’s about putting the paddles to the chest of their offense hoping to get a heartbeat. It’s about getting a win to start the final quarter of the 2019 season. Nothing else matters.

To see the bigger story? You have to go up above the trees and look down. From up there, you can see the organization fast approaching the most wrenching, controversial, certain-to-be-scrutinized period in its history.

The end of Tom Brady’s career as a Patriot.

They can, will and should ignore it now. But unless there’s a radical course change in the next 90 days, that’s what’s coming. 

The clock starts ticking in earnest when the Patriots season ends and early March approaches. That’s when Brady’s contract expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The team had every chance the past few years to give Brady an extension that would allow him to play until he’s 45 – a goal he’s stated on numerous occasions.

They passed on it repeatedly, most recently last August when the extension Brady was waiting on turned into a simple salary bump for 2019. And that raise, which got him to $23 million ($4.5M less than Jimmy Garoppolo’s average salary; $10M less than Jared Goff’s) only came after the opening offer – a $3M raise and incentives similar to the ones he agreed to (and didn’t come close to hitting) in 2018 – was rejected.

With the reworked agreement, Brady also got the Patriots to agree they wouldn’t use the franchise tag on him after this year. For the first time since 2000, Brady will have no owner, no boss, no team.

Unless the two sides get back to the table before he becomes a free agent.

If they do, do you have any guesses on how that’s going to go? I do. 

The Patriots didn’t want to ante up for a 42-year-old quarterback this year the same way they didn’t want to ante up for Brady in 2017 when he was 40.

With his 43-year-old season approaching, Brady and his agent Don Yee are going to sit down and ask for a bump to bring him in line with the rest of the league’s best quarterbacks after Brady has one of the worst statistical seasons of his career?

Doesn’t that seem like a request that Bill Belichick would begin to answer with the words, “With all due respect …”?


So where’s that leave Brady?

Taking a pay cut after a year spent throwing to Gunner, Jakobi and N’Keal?

Taking a pay cut after the team – for the second straight year – hauled aboard a troubled wideout after they realized they forgot to pack enough wide receiver personnel in the offseason?

Taking a pay cut after that plan blew up on them for the second straight year?

Taking a pay cut after the team failed to replace Rob Gronkowski in free agency and let the position grow stale by failing to draft anyone at the position there over the past several years except Ryan Izzo (seventh round, 2018)?

Taking a pay cut to stick around when he knows the team’s been earnestly trying to prepare for post-Brady life since 2014, that the players around him aren’t going to magically morph into what he wants, that Gronk’s gone, Julian’s 34 and the thrill is gone?

Do they even bother sitting down at the table to talk or do they just realize they’ve come to the end of the road?

Do they agree on an amicable divorce because of one irreconcilable difference: Brady believes he can still play at a high level, the Patriots don’t want to take that on faith and don’t love the idea of throwing $25M at the position so Brady can follow that muse.

This season has done nothing to bring the two sides closer together.

IT’S BEEN BUILDING

What the two sides are headed for isn’t about Sunday’s game or even the 2019 offseason. The night in April 2014 when the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Belichick mentioned Brady’s age and contract status, the die was cast.

Brady beat back that challenge but in doing so he scuttled Belichick’s succession plans when the Patriots reluctantly traded Garoppolo in 2017.

The Brady-Belichick relationship from early 2017 after Super Bowl 51 to the start of the 2018 season was strained and while the two sides smoothed things over nicely before the 2018 season, the incentive-laden deal Brady was given for 2018 was unsatisfying.

And even though the 2018 season ended well, it was a difficult year offensively for Brady who went from a guy throwing for 505 yards in Super Bowl 52 to playing more of a supporting role for a team that morphed into one more reliant on its defense and its running game to win Super Bowl 53. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola were both gone and the offense sputtered for most of the season.

This past offseason, Gronk retired and the Patriots had no luck replacing him or stocking the wideout position.

It was clear in August that Brady had concerns about how raw his receivers were.

“I think training camp’s an interesting time with a lot of bodies,” Brady said when the team was in Tennessee. “There’s a lot of guys in and out. Some years, you might have three guys set or four guys set, and I think this year, we haven’t really had that. It’s good work for the quarterback to just make a read and then make a throw. Whether we come up with it or not, at least we’re going to the right place and making a good, decisive play. So there’s still a lot to be gained with guys moving in and out, and that’s just the way it’s been.

“I think the chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver or a quarterback and tight end is so important because it’s all anticipation,” he later added. “If you’re waiting for things to happen in the NFL, you’re too late. You’ve got to just anticipate and expect them to be a certain way, and that’s how they turn out. I have, obviously, a lot of experience. I know where guys should be, so I’m trying to tell them, ‘If you want the ball, this is where you’ve got to be,’ which is hopefully good learning for those guys, and it’s good teaching for me.”

It’s now December. Sunday night was a good illustration that it’s not what he hoped but more of what he feared.

Brady’s been at a low simmer most of the year. His frustration with where the team is offensively has been well-documented.

He’s made it clear on a few occasions that personnel isn’t his job. Or coaching. He is an employee, one of the 53.

His, “Don’t ask me, I just work here…” pose whether it related to bringing in then releasing Antonio Brown or cutting Benjamin Watson when Watson came off suspension? It spoke volumes.

A KRAFT INTERCESSION?

There’s been a presumption that Brady won’t ever be anything but a Patriot because – in the end – Robert Kraft won’t let that happen.

But Brady’s response when asked about a contract extension at the end of July was interesting because he – with a smile – invoked Kraft’s name when discussing it. 

"Have I earned [an extension]? I don't know, that's up for talk show debate," Brady said. "What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on."

Just days after Brady got the raise for 2019 but not the hoped-for extension, he put his Brookline, Mass., home on the market.

Kraft tried very hard over the years to make sure Brady retired a Patriot.

Here’s what he said in 2013 when Brady signed an extension to take him through 2017.

“I was probably wearing my fan hat as much as anything else. I just didn't want to ever see this become like Joe Montana leaving San Francisco, Emmitt Smith leaving Dallas, Brett Favre leaving Green Bay, Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis,” Kraft told then-Sports Illustrated writer Peter King. “If Tom Brady played out this current contract and left us, there was no doubt in my mind that someone out there would pay him top dollar, and they should, for his ability, his leadership and his unselfishness.

“I was just trying to stay ahead of the curve. If we were going to have to pay him elite-quarterback money and have elite-quarterback cap numbers, I just didn't think we would be able to build a team. We don't want to have a team where we're paying 18 to 20 percent to a player on the cap. I wanted to do something elegant that would work for everybody. I had been talking to him off and on for maybe 18 months, about how I wanted him to finish his career here, and about how we both have to be smart about it. I just really want him to end his career a Patriot. I presented an idea to him that I thought could work for both sides…We're taking a chance making this commitment, and he's taking one, in terms of his ability to maximize pay. I just thought if winning is the most important thing to him, and I think it is, and it certainly is to our family, this gives us the best chance to win. Hopefully, we have an elite quarterback that, even if his skills decline even a little bit, he'll still be better than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the league. And his legacy -- I already believe he's the greatest of all time -- if we win one or two more, he can solidify that.”

Well, they’ve won three more. And Brady’s legacy is solidified. Now, Kraft has to decide if – seven years later – he wants to pay a 43-year-old close to that 18 to 20 percent of the cap just to avoid the sad sight of Brady playing in another uniform.

SO WHAT HAPPENS?

In early 2015, just before the Patriots played Seattle in Super Bowl 49, New York Times writer Mark Leibovich wrote a piece titled, ironically, “Tom Brady Cannot Stop.” 

In it, Leibovich talked to Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., who predicted, “It will end badly. It does end badly. And I know that because I know what Tommy wants to do. He wants to play till he’s 70.”

“It’s a cold business,” the elder Brady told Leibovich. “And for as much as you want it to be familial, it isn’t.”

But does it really have to end “badly” in New England? Certainly, Brady playing elsewhere is jarring to even visualize, but if he is resigned to the fact that – without Gronk, with a 34-year-old Edelman and an offense trying to reboot and rebuild – New England isn’t where his future lies, does it have to be bitterly disappointing if an end-of-career change of scenery becomes what’s best for him and for the Patriots?

Can the two sides part politely and come to a mutual understanding that that’s what’s best?

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Brady’s outlived Belichick’s “replace a year early rather than a year late” philosophy already.

Despite what his statistics say this season, his arm strength and pocket mobility are about where they’ve always been and his football IQ is unmatched. He’s got more football in him. He once said he’d play until he sucks. He doesn’t suck. Not by a long shot. But his tone and expression this season have often conveyed a feeling of frustration that his current situation sucks.

Does he want to stick around to try and change it? Do the Patriots want him to? If the answer to both of those questions is “no” does he try to find a situation where he can feel like he’s building to something rather than stagnating?

Those are questions only he can answer and – truth be told – he’s not thinking about them right now. He’s concerned with Kansas City, the rest of the season, the playoffs.

But the reality of the big-picture situation is inescapable and it’s the underlying tension to this season. It’s ironic when you think about it: So many teams part with their stars because – after years of over-indulging his needs – they just can’t do it anymore. In this case, Brady’s time in New England may end because he was under-indulged.

Watch a discussion of Brady's future with Tom E. Curran, Michael Felger, Lou Merloni and Michael Holley on here on YouTube:

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NFL Rumors: Details of Lamar Miller's Patriots contract revealed

NFL Rumors: Details of Lamar Miller's Patriots contract revealed

The New England Patriots have signed another former Pro Bowler for pennies on the dollar, it appears.

Running back Lamar Miller officially signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in free agency Thursday, and now we know the reported details of that deal, thanks to ESPN's Field Yates.

Miller will make $1.05 million in base salary in 2020 with $200,000 guaranteed. He has an additional $1.5 million in incentives, per Yates, meaning he can earn up to $2.55 million this season. 

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That's a pretty steep discount for the 29-year-old running back, whose four-year, $26 million contract with the Houston Texans (with $14 million guaranteed) expired this spring.

Miller made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and has two 1,000-rushing-yard seasons under his belt but missed the entire 2019 campaign after tearing his ACL in the preseason.

Miller actually has the same base salary as Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who took an even bigger pay cut to join New England in free agency. Newton's contract has more incentives, though: The three-time Pro Bowler can earn up to $7.5 million this season.

Starting running back Sony Michel is still recovering from ankle surgery and may not be ready for Week 1, so Miller has the opportunity to revive his career in New England, while the Patriots are hoping to find value in another talented player coming off an injury.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

There’s one sentiment shared by everyone who’s covered the New England Patriots for the entirety of their dynastic run. Gratitude. 

It might not show up in the day-to-day coverage of reporting on the nitty-gritty of where the team is and where it’s headed. It might not seem like it when we probe and analyze the interpersonal relationships and shine a light on where the agitations are. 

But to have had a front-row seat to history for 20 years? To watch a once-failed head coach, an overlooked quarterback and an idealistic and sometimes naïve owner combine to lift the Patriots from NFL afterthought to the most successful team in the history of America’s most beloved sport? Right place, right time for me. 

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I coulda been born in Saint Augustine, Florida, and spent my career covering the Jaguars. I wasn’t. I got to cover the team I loved first. The team I cried over when it lost in the 1976 playoffs to the Oakland Raiders. I can still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt at the 1997 NFL Draft, the first event I covered in person on the Patriots beat. It was all I wanted to do. 

The Patriots drafted Chris Canty in the first round. It’s gotten better since then. 

When you cover the team this long, you develop a sense of “ownership.” A belief you know the story as well as anyone possibly could. It’s probably not healthy. Really, it’s a barrier to learning. But I’ll admit it lurks. So when it was announced that author Jeff Benedict would have a book called, “The Dynasty” coming out in September, there was a flash of, “I already know the story…” combined with a twinge of “Why’s he writing it? What’s he know that I don’t?"

Well, as it turns out – and as I expected from an author of Benedict’s ability – there’s a lot he knows about the Patriots that I didn’t.

I’m more than 200 pages into the 525-page book. Benedict spoke to 250 different people. He got everyone who matters on the record – Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Roger Goodell … the list goes on. I’m learning a lot. 

Benedict, who along with Armen Keteyian wrote the best-selling book, “Tiger Woods,” is a master at digging for details and anecdotes and putting his reader in a fly-on-the-wall position because he’s such a terrific reporter and storyteller. 

”The Dynasty” won’t be released by published Simon and Schuster until September 1. There’s an embargo on the content until then. But I did get to speak with Benedict on “Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast” about the two-year process of writing this book. 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Benedict explains the process behind upcoming book, "The Dynasty" | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“To me, we’re talking about the greatest sports dynasty, certainly of this century in America and it’s in the conversation as being the greatest sports dynasty in America ever,” said Benedict. “I did feel a tremendous sense of being overwhelmed, a sense of foreboding because it’s such an epic story. 

“I’m not an insider,” Benedict said. “I know all these guys who have been around this franchise forever. I wasn’t there for any of it. I’ve literally never covered a Patriots game … And here’s an army of men and women who’ve been around the team, so it was sort of this idea of, ‘What can you bring that would actually add value and be different?’ 

“I tried to look at it from the perspective of the one thing I can relate to is, I’m a New Englander to the core. What I do feel is I really understand my audience. And the core audience for this book is people who live in New England and people who have followed this team and are in love with this team.

"It’s not to say I don’t want to write it for people in other parts of the country. I want them to read it too and there’s a great story there even if you’re a Jets fan or a Steelers fan. But the core audience is us who live in New England.”

The start of the book is Kraft-centric. The first 100 pages cover the machinations he went through to purchase the team, keep it in Foxboro and build a stadium, which have been somewhat been taken for granted around here and are laid out in detail by Benedict. I learned a lot.

“I have a wonderful editor,” said Benedict. “My editor gave me the same challenge with this as he did with Tiger Woods and that was, ‘I want the reader to learn something new on every single page of this book.’ So if the book is 500 pages long, that’s at least 500 things you need to find that no one else knew. 

“That’s really hard in the New England market,” Benedict added. “The Patriots are the most beloved team in New England. They’re the kings. They’re covered the most. It’s saturation coverage. So I took the approach that, this is not a book about a person, this is a book about a team, about a franchise.

"I went into it with two central questions that all Patriots fans are interested in. First, how was this dynasty built? How was it made? What distinguishes this team from all of those others is they ran their course in about a decade. And after that, their ship had sailed. This dynasty has doubled the length of any of its predecessors. And the second question is how did they sustain it?”

The book is current. It gets into the departure of Brady, the machinations that led to it and the sentiments of everyone involved. Again, I know the story and what I’ve been told. But nobody told me exactly what was said, where conversations took place and how people reacted. 

Benedict has that in The Dynasty. Which serves as further proof that, in life, you think you know. But often you don’t really know.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.