Many expected that N'Keal Harry might not last much longer with the New England Patriots. But few expected the 23-year-old wide receiver to publicly request a trade via a lengthy statement from his agent.
The trade request was a bold move considering Harry's underwhelming tenure in New England to date: He's played in just 21 games over two seasons with 45 total catches and 414 yards as a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
What would embolden Harry and his agent to demand a trade when he's not even a lock to make the roster? Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson believes you can trace Harry's action -- and Stephon Gilmore's tweet last week essentially demanding a raise -- to Tom Brady leaving the team in 2020 free agency.
"You take Tom Brady out of New England and the entire ecosystem has been disrupted," Johnson said Tuesday on NBC Sports Boston's "Boston Sports Tonight." "When have you ever seen a player take on Bill Belichick who has not accomplished anything in this league like N'Keal Harry is taking him on so publicly?"
Johnson added that Belichick and his players are both doing things in the post-Brady era that "you've never seen before," from Belichick making excuses for New England's disappointing 2020 season to Harry and Gilmore publicly airing their grievances. In Johnson's mind, you wouldn't have seen any of that if Brady was on the team.
"It's a totally different ecosystem now that Tom is gone," Johnson added. "He was the guy who set the example for everyone else. Bill could puff out his chest, he could play hardball because he knew he had Tom behind him to kind of cover his warts and kind of make up for any decisions that he made.
"Guys fell in line because you wanted to play for a winner. You wanted to play with Tom Brady. You wanted to win. And I just don't think that same feeling is there for players in this organization."
Johnson's theory makes sense: Ex-Patriots have admitted Belichick isn't the easiest coach to play for, but he and Brady guided New England to six Super Bowl titles in nine appearances over 20 years, so any hardships were well worth it. Now that Brady is gone and the Patriots' success has diminished (at least in the short term), players may have a little less patience if they want to improve their situations.
Belichick's offseason spending spree suggests he's out to prove he doesn't need Brady to succeed, and if New England turns it around in 2020, it will be interesting to see how the post-Brady "ecosystem" changes.
Johnson also explained why Harry's trade request was "10 times worse" than Gilmore's tweet. Check out his full comments in the video below.