Impasse between Tom Brady, Patriots is almost impossible to solve

Impasse between Tom Brady, Patriots is almost impossible to solve

Everybody has hunches, guesses and informed opinions about what’s going to happen between Tom Brady and the Patriots over the next two months.

Nobody — Brady, Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick included — knows for sure. Too many variables.

But if you trace the path back seven years to when Kraft and Brady laid the framework for the deal that Kraft figured would ensure Tom Brady retired as a Patriot, you can learn a lot.

On a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, a contract that would take Brady through his 40-year-old season in 2017 was formulated. Announced at the end of February, it was basically a five-year, $57M agreement that — because it was so modest — allowed the team plenty of maneuverability to sign other players.

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This contract was done 14 months before Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted, four months before Aaron Hernandez would be arrested.  

When news of the deal broke, Brady posted on Facebook a photo of himself and myriad teammates with the caption: “Every part of what I do depends on the guys I play with.’’

A salute, but maybe also a challenge to the Patriots to spend that money he saved them wisely.

Kraft, speaking to Peter King, indicated he thought the deal would lock Brady down through the end of his career.

“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 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.”

But this is the most important part of Kraft’s comments relative to where we are today.

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.

Think about that. Seven years ago, when Brady was "just" 35, Kraft and presumably Belichick were resistant to the idea of “paying 18 to 20 percent to a player on the cap.”

Now fast forward to 2020.

To get Brady past the end of his last deal, the Patriots signed him to a two-year, $41M extension in March 2016 that added on the 2018 and 2019 season. The Patriots inserted $1M team options for both years just in case Garoppolo was still around (he was not).

With Jimmy G. deposed, Brady spent the past two offseasons hoping for another extension and a pay increase. He got nothing in 2018. In 2019 he got the increase.

He just played his 42-year-old season and made $23M while his cap hit was $21.5M. That was 11 percent of the $188M salary cap.

Now, because of salary cap machinations the team engaged in last offseason, there’s an extra $13.5M hanging out there that needs to be accounted for with Brady’s deal.

The team has until free agency begins on March 18 to give Brady a new contract; otherwise, the $13.5M will count against their 2020 salary cap. And that’s regardless of whether or not he re-signs here after free agency begins.

So if Brady goes out, tests the waters and gets a one-year offer from someone for $25M, matching that would mean Brady carries a $38.5 million cap hit in 2020. That’s 19.25 percent of the projected $200M salary cap for 2020.

If the Patriots sign Brady to a one-year deal for $25M on, say, March 17, half of the $13.5M in prorated money hits the cap so the cap hit is $31.75M — 15.875 percent of the cap.

(As an aside, there’s still $4.5M from Antonio Brown counting against the 2020 cap as well. That may be credited at some point, but until it is, it must be accounted for.)

The Patriots need vast personnel improvement on the offensive side of the ball. They have key free agents like Joe Thuney and Kyle Van Noy coming up and their defense is getting very gray.

If they make the plea to Brady that they can’t sink that kind of money into him because they need to get more people to help Brady, do you know what his answer will be?

That’s what I heard last year. And the year before that. And every year since I did the below-market deal in 2013. I’ve been the biggest bargain in football and — yeah — we’ve had great team success, but it’s not because you populated my huddle with guys who made my life easier.

For Brady to remain a Patriot and not take up an unacceptable amount of cap room he first HAS to re-sign before March 18 to avoid the $13.5M cap charge. So the idea I’ve bandied about that Brady will go take a free agent tour then come back to the Patriots is faulty.

Second, he probably has to accept less than the $23M the team paid him last year since the Patriots aren’t going to give a raise to Brady with the additional $6.75M being tacked on to his salary, especially after a modest season, especially when they need to go shopping.

Third, he has to take on faith promises the Patriots will improve the pieces around him, because free agency would begin after Brady signed an extension. The draft would still be six weeks away. Any trades for superstar tight ends or wideouts would have to wait. And that’s not even getting into the changes on the coaching staff if Josh McDaniels leaves and whether Brady would be willing to be a bigger part of the offseason work or if the team wants him to.

If you hit Bill Belichick or Robert Kraft with truth serum, they’d likely say they’ve done everything they can to reasonably ensure Tom Brady never played anywhere else. More than reasonably.

Again, here’s Kraft from 2013.

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,” Kraft added. “And his legacy — I already believe he's the greatest of all time — if we win one or two more, he can solidify that.

We are three years past the “end” that Kraft projected. The Patriots didn’t win one or two more. They won three. Brady’s legacy, Belichick’s legacy, Kraft’s legacy, the Patriots’ legacy — all are safe. Mission accomplished.

Do the Patriots have it in them to say to Brady, “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”?

Will Brady mind if they do?

We’ll find out between now and St. Patrick’s Day.

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Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

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These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

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Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

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"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."