There were two prevailing reactions in New England when those through-the-bushes images of Tom Brady and his Tampa teammates emerged on Monday.
The first: “Hmmm, orange doesn’t look bad on him.”
The second: “Must be nice to have a quarterback working out with his teammates in May. The Patriots didn’t have that the past two years.”
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As sniveling, smarmy, willfully ignorant and entitled as that response may be, as much as those words issuing from someone’s mouth or keyboard immediately stamps them as someone whose sportin’ company I definitely wouldn’t want to keep … they ain’t wrong.
You can’t spend 18 offseasons busting ass at OTAs, bragging about the foundation for success built in the spring, even getting the fellas together at BC during the 2011 lockout and then expect people to note your absence with a shrug.
Voluntary offseason workouts matter and the 2018 and 2019 Patriots would have been better off offensively if Tom Brady attended them.
On that, I think we can all agree.
As Jerod Mayo said on “Quick Slants the Podcast” in 2018 during a long conversation on Brady and the missing of OTAs, “What’s best for the team is having Tom Brady there.”
So what makes the most accomplished player in NFL history, the most competitive individual this side of Mike Jordan, a guy who previously would crawl through a mile of crap and broken glass just for the chance to run gassers on an NFL practice field suddenly say, “Nahhhh, all set with the offseason stuff this year…”?
Brady himself said during his Howard Stern interview that his decision to alter his offseason availability to the Patriots came because of an ultimatum from his wife, Gisele Bündchen.
"A couple of years ago, she didn’t feel like I was doing my part for the family," Brady told Stern. "She felt like I would play football all season, and she’d take care of the house. Then, when the season ended, I’d be like, 'Great, let me get into all my other business activities. Let me get into my football training.' And she’s going, 'When are you going to do things for the house? When are you going to take the kids to school?'
"That was a big part of our marriage. I had to check myself because she was like, 'I have goals and dreams, too. ... So, you better start taking care of things at the house.' I had to make a big transition in my life to say, 'I can't do all the things that I wanted to do for football like I used to. I've got to take care of things in my family.' … Because my family, the situation wasn't great. She wasn’t satisfied with our marriage. So, I needed to make a change in that."
You’d have to be a real dink to hear that explanation and think it was made up and that the real issue was Brady’s irritation with the Patriots and his contract. And when Brady came to mandatory minicamp in 2018, he mentioned there were “personal” things he had to attend to.
But, as has been sneeringly pointed out, Brady’s still married. He’s still got kids. What’s the difference now?
The answer? He’s got no history there. He’s got a clean slate. The Bucs have a clean slate.
In 2018 when Brady first decided to stay away from OTAs? Dirty slate.
Let’s roll it back a little. After the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 early in 2017, Brady — now the lone quarterback in NFL history with five Super Bowl wins — poured a little more of himself into his off-field brand. A book on the “TB12 Method” and a more aggressive effort to get that philosophy in front of the public was launched. Brady also did his “Tom vs. Time” documentary at that time.
These were the “business activities” Brady was no doubt referring to when talking to Stern.
Meanwhile, Brady — who signed a two-year extension in March of 2016 that would take him through the 2019 season — started eyeing an extension and the team’s dealing with backup Jimmy Garoppolo, whose contract was expiring after the 2017 season.
Brady was operating on a team-friendly deal with a cap hit of just $15 million in 2017.
But the Patriots weren’t moving on from Garoppolo. They didn’t trade him leading up to the 2017 draft, privately citing concern about a Brady dropoff at the age of 40. Also — and reasonably — Garoppolo was seen as wise insurance for a Super Bowl-caliber team if Brady got hurt early in the year.
Better to let it play out with Jimmy and maybe figure a way to keep him around on a bridge contract.
So against that backdrop — Brady’s new off-field commitment to advancing TB12 and the team’s perceived refusal to commit to Brady by trading Jimmy and giving Brady a contract commensurate with his performance — the 2017 season began. Bill Belichick wasn’t enamored with Brady’s newfound marketing expansion nor his documentary filmmaking.
For his part, Brady didn’t much care. He’d been under the contractual boot for a long time. When Belichick needed to send a message by ripping his best player in front of the team, he would. At 40, after all he’d accomplished, to get strung along contractually and have Belichick start to pull back on in-facility access to his trainer, friend and TB12 partner Alex Guerrero, it set the scene for a contentious year which — by December — was becoming obviously strained.
Even so, Brady had an MVP season, Garoppolo got traded and the team advanced to the Super Bowl against the Eagles. And then they lost to the Eagles as Malcolm Butler watched from the sidelines.
And then it got ugly for a few months. I described it as an open revolt.
So it wasn’t a stunner that when OTAs began, Brady wasn’t there. He’d spent the previous offseason doing all his TB12 stuff, was slated to play for a rate that was now a fraction of what Garoppolo had signed for, had a miserable 2017 with Belichick and the team lost the Super Bowl despite putting up 33 points and Brady throwing for 505. He was also in possession of a note from his wife saying, “Enough. I need some help around here.”
You’ve heard the phrase, “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?” It kind of applies here. In this instance, the GOAT was the cow and OTAs were the milk.
If the Patriots slid Brady a two-year, $50M fully guaranteed deal at the beginning of the 2019 offseason, would he have been in Foxboro to pitch-and-catch with N’Keal Harry, Bruce Ellington and Dontrelle Inman last May? Would he be right now figuring ways to work out at a secluded field in Northern Maine with Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene? I dunno.
We never got a chance to find out.
But I know for sure that the backstory that led to Tom Brady sweating his ass off in May with his new Tampa teammates had a lot to do with why he wasn’t doing the same up here last spring.
And you would have done the same thing.