Patriots

Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

If you asked Bill Belichick his opinion of Tom Brady’s media tour this week – Player’s Tribune, Howard Stern – he’d probably snort and wonder why it’s necessary in the first place. Why feed the jackals at all?

But for Brady, not having to ask Belichick’s permission to speak freely (or to deal with the passive-aggressive consequences if he failed to) must be liberating.

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Which is a little sad for an accomplished 42-year-old in a public position, but that was what it was.

Even if Belichick is somewhere rolling his eyes about newly-liberated Brady unburdening himself, it’s obvious this is not a grievance-airing exercise on Brady’s part.

Will that day ever come? Maybe. There are plenty. But the person Brady’s chosen to be in his adult life doesn’t fixate on negativity. And looking at the rough patches and irritations in his 20-year professional marriage to the Patriots – even if they are salacious and interesting because they are secrets well-kept – isn’t the way he rolls. 

He’s a love guy. He’s a Four Agreements guy.

He is publicly living on the post-Patriots high road as the 129-minute interview with Howard Stern showed on Wednesday.

Here are a few takeaways from the fascinating interview.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

It seemed important to Brady that the takeaway to his leaving the Patriots be the simple fact that his desires as a player and Belichick’s as a GM/team builder were at cross purposes.

It wasn’t primarily because Brady felt unappreciated or disrespected at the bargaining table. If he was hit with the truth serum, Brady would concede they were there, but they were symptoms of how Belichick viewed Brady and as opposed to how Brady viewed himself.

And Brady gave Belichick a complete pass for that.

"I think he has a lot of loyalty,” Brady said. “He and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, nor should they be, that so many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me," Brady said.

“Now I'm not going to respond to every rumor or assumption that's made, other than what his responsibility as coach is to get the best player for the team -- not only in the short term but in the long term as well. … I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes had experienced.

“I got to the point where I was an older athlete and he's starting to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is. I don't fault him for that. That's what he should be doing. Not that I would ever coach, but if I was ever in a position of authority, I would understand that too."

This wasn’t a revelation for anyone paying attention.

In December, I laid out the scenario, writing that: 

The Patriots didn’t want to ante up (in 2019) for a 42-year-old quarterback 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? …

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.

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.

People shouldn’t have needed a neon sign pointing them in the direction of what ultimately was going to happen. 

Especially after last August.  

WHEN THE END WAS NEAR

Brady went into training camp last July waiting on a contract extension to take him through 2020. It’s what he expected. The truth was spoken in jest when he was asked about it on the first day of camp and he told the media to “Talk to Mr. Kraft…” before adding “hopefully we can keep it going.” 

When he didn’t get the extension and only got the raise after it came clear how miffed he was, the gig was up. We discussed it at the time on our podcast and the timing of his Brookline home hitting the market was not a complete coincidence. It happened just days after the extension didn’t come to pass. 

As Brady told Stern on Wednesday, “I would say I probably knew before the start of last season that it was my last year," Brady said. "I knew that our time was coming to an end."

Brady’s demeanor in Tennessee when the Patriots showed up for joint practices soon after he agreed to the 2019 raise was somewhat telling. Just Employee No. 12 reporting for duty.

And after Antonio Brown was released, Brady gave an answer to Jim Gray that said exactly that: "The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.” 

ICING OUT WIDE RECEIVERS

Brady told Stern candidly that there were times he bluntly told his coaches that he wasn’t going to throw to players he didn’t trust.

“I would say, ‘I don’t have any trust this guy can help us win the game,'” Brady said. “I definitely expressed my opinion to say, ‘If you put him out there, I’m not going to throw him the ball.’

“Fortunately for me, coach Belichick always saw it the same way, which is why I think we have such a great connection. He saw football very much the same way I saw it...We saw the process of winning very much the same way.”

That set off a round of recency bias in which folks pointed to first-rounder N’Keal Harry as being a player Brady wasn’t interested in throwing to. That was followed by a round of, “Well, if Tom showed up to OTAs …”

The truth is, Brady was resistant to throwing to guys he didn’t trust for most of his Patriots career. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Chad Johnson, Joey Galloway, Aaron Dobson, even Chris Hogan for a big chunk of 2018 and Phillip Dorsett this past season all found themselves outside Brady’s circle of trusted targets.

The fact is, Brady’s demands aren’t just high in terms of route precision, he also wants players to be intuitive in their route-running. If something is taken away, they need to see it like he sees it and react. Which is a very hard tightrope to walk for a player who doesn’t want to screw up and piss Brady off.

It will be interesting to see how tolerant Brady is with brand new targets in Tampa who he won’t have the time to develop chemistry with.

LEGACY

Brady dismissed the notion legacy means much to him. And you have to believe him. But that’s now. Winning his fifth Super Bowl meant something because it pushed him past Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Winning his sixth championship tied him with Michael Jordan. He won an MVP at 40 in 2017. If he played a full season in 2016, he probably would have won it that year as well at 39. He won a Super Bowl at 41. His legacy is intact.

Tampa Bay is gravy and he can play with less stress and more enjoyment, it seems.

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“We all think we’re going to live forever but the reality is we don’t know when our day is going to come,” Brady said. “I could stop playing football because I’m worried about what’s going to happen. Why don’t I live my life the way I want, and enjoy it, the way that is most fulfilling to me? For me, that’s doing what I love to do. You don’t tell a musician to stop singing at age 42. You don’t tell a painter to stop painting at 42.”

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

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Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.