Tom Brady knew the questions Jim Gray would pose during their hour-long chat at the Milken Institute on Monday.
This would be the first “live” Brady of this offseason of discontent. The last access – the final episode of the "Tom vs. Time" documentary – was filtered through the editing and production of filmmaker Gotham Chopra.
The impression at the end of that piece was clear. Brady, according to his wife, Gisele Bundchen, was running an appreciation/fun deficit at work. Brady was philosophical in the final scene, asking aloud why, exactly, he sacrifices all he does.
And that impression melded with what I’d been told: the 2017 season left wounds.
So, on Monday, Brady could either drive a stake through the heart of the notion he’s felt unappreciated by the organization or he could breathe life into it.
He chose to do both.
When Gray asked if he felt appropriate gratitude for his accomplishments, Brady proclaimed, "I plead..the Fifth!"
Continuing a moment later, Brady said, "Man, that is a tough question. I think everybody, in general, wants to be appreciated more in their professional life, but there's a lot of people that appreciate me way more than I ever thought was possible as part of my life. You have different influences in your life and the people I work with, they're trying to get the best out of me. So they're trying to treat me in the way they feel is going to get the best out of me, and I've got to get the best out of myself.”
A translation? “The answer may incriminate me. The answer isn’t easy to utter. Many people don’t feel fully appreciated at work and I am one of them. But they believe they get the best results at my place of employment when they make you feel wholly replaceable no matter what you’ve done. So I’m going to live with that.”
If that wasn’t the upshot, why then did Brady joke about not answering and why did he consider it a tough question?
Asked by Gray if he’s happy, Brady replied, "I have my moments."
Hit pause there.
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If Brady said nothing more on the topics of happiness and appreciation, Monday would have been a bleak day. Nothing resolved. Brady heading back reluctantly to the salt mines sometime this spring.
But he chose not to. He instead chose to elaborate and convincingly leave the impression that, even if he’s weary of Bill Belichick’s bedside manner, he’ll suck it up because it’s for the best. Belichick is what he is.
“We’ve had a great relationship, a very respectful relationship for a long time. I feel like he’s the best coach in the history of the NFL,” said Brady. “He has a management style [with] players, and he would say, ‘Look, I’m not the easiest coach to play for.’ I agree. He’s not the easiest coach to play for, but he’s the best for me. I think what he’s proven is that whatever talent he has, he maximizes his talent. What more could you ask of a coach than that? That’s what I want as a player...He’s been an incredible coach, he’s been an incredible mentor to me. He’s taught me so much football. To be a 22-year-old kid and come and learn from him, I wouldn’t be sitting here without his coaching. I wouldn’t have the success without how incredibly talented he was, along with a lot of the other coaches, a lot of the other players, a lot of the other people in the organization. Because it takes everybody to do it.”
So Brady is standing down, it seems. But not without a couple of final rabbit punches. And those weren’t limited to his appreciation level.
His comments on Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl absence were pretty pointed and detailed.
“I wish he would have played, but the coach decided not to play him, and we still had a chance to win,” Brady said.
Explaining he didn’t realize Butler was out of the game, Brady said, “For a team, this side of the room is the offense and this side is the defense. We don’t interfere with them much. I didn’t know. Malcolm kept coming over to me during the game and was like ‘Come on, TB, let’s go!’ And I kept going, ‘What defense are we in where Malcolm’s not on the field?’ Is it short-yardage, goal line? “And then after the game, I found out. So I just didn’t know. And I asked Malcolm, and Malcolm said, ‘I don’t know. Coach has just decided something different.’ I said, ‘OK.’ So I don’t know what was a part of that decision-making, but I know we were trying to win the game. I don’t think we were trying to do anything but win.”
And his answer that the “guy who owns the team” is better suited to give an answer on Butler to Patriots fans than he is was also a little eye-widening.
But the upshot is that – even with the team reportedly spending the draft process sniffing around Baker Mayfield, even with Brady still apart from the team during workouts, even with the agitations and irritations of playing for Belichick – Brady went on record as saying he wants to play until his mid-40s and that he’s locked in through the end of ’19.
If, in the end, that’s all that matters to you, then who’s to tell you you’re wrong?