FOXBORO – For about four seconds, Tom Brady’s guard came down.
Asked by NFL Media’s Mike Giardi on Wednesday if he deserves a new contract, Brady lapsed into a rarely-seen version of himself who can jokingly say whatever he wants without consequence.
It’s like he was Gronk with a good back.
“That's up for talk show debate,” Brady said, warming up to the contract question and playing along. “What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on.”
After that last bit, Brady’s out of body experience came to an end.
His desire made clear and responsibility for getting it done laid on the doorstep of his Brookline neighbor, Robert Kraft, Brady’s tone, facial expression, posture and hydration level all snapped back to normal Brady levels.
“Like I said, we got a great relationship, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
I wrote about the interesting contract standoff last week. Brady beat back the Jimmy Garoppolo challenge Bill Belichick presented him with and — having done that — Brady’s been waiting for a new deal that carries past the end of 2019 and ensures he retires a Patriot.
Instead, he’s been put off, mildly placated or — in the case of last year — downright disrespected with incentive-laden “sing for your supper” incentive bonuses. Bonuses he had no prayer of hitting after the team let Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola walk.
Brady continues to stiff-upper-lip his way through it but there’s no mystery to why he doesn’t have a new deal yet.
He turns 42 on Saturday. And, as onerous as his $27M cap hit is this year, signing him to an extension that will pay him upwards of $30M for his 43- and 44-year-old seasons gives Bill Belichick the vapors.
The reason the Patriots hung on to Garoppolo until Halloween 2017 was because they thought Brady might bottom out or get hurt. And that was two years ago. And for a team that had several proven receivers and a Hall of Fame tight end.
Now, with a worse complement of players around him, Belichick is still staring at his cards, fiddling with his chips and hesitating to ante up.
It’s as if Belichick has gently laid the gauntlet down at the feet of the owner just as Brady jokingly did on Wednesday.
Belichick isn’t going melt down if Kraft gives Brady a new deal before the start of the season.
But Belichick’s M.O. with aging and expensive players has long since been established. He takes them out behind the barn and returns by himself. Or he lets them play the contract out, see what other teams are willing to pay in free agency and then makes a calculated business decision.
If Brady is going to be the exception, fine. Belichick gets it. But my feeling is that he’s going to let Kraft do this deal so that Belichick has plausible deniability in case Brady faceplants.
And with the cast surrounding him, Brady is set up to have another down year relative to his normal output.
Last year, as the Patriots offense struggled without Julian Edelman and a limping Gronk, the team cycled through Eric Decker, Corey Coleman and assorted other receivers that couldn’t cut it. They finally settled on the troubled Josh Gordon as a solution. And it worked for 11 games. Until Gordon’s troubles resurfaced and he was suspended.
Fortunately, Dante Scarnecchia, Josh McDaniels, the running backs and the offensive line helped shoulder Brady’s burden. But personnel wasn’t cited as the primary reason the offense struggled. Brady was.
This year, they are worse on offense.
If Belichick was inclined to let it play out until Brady became a free agent and believed the market would be kind of soft for the 43-year-old, he’d probably be right.
So he’s doing business as business in the NFL is supposed to be done if you want to stay good for long stretches. Nobody knows more about staying good for a long stretch than Belichick.
Which is why, when Brady had his moment of clarity, he didn’t say, “Ask Coach…” Because he already knows the answer would be, “We’ll see.”
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