For Patriots, adding N'Keal Harry is bait for Tom Brady to keep taking risks

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For Patriots, adding N'Keal Harry is bait for Tom Brady to keep taking risks

Tom Brady doesn’t like messy or leaving things to chance. It’s served him pretty well.

He’s won six Super Bowls in part because he gets off on dissecting and demoralizing a defense rather than bludgeoning it.

There are still self-styled experts married to the notion that a quarterback’s effectiveness can be measured by how far the ball travels before it’s caught. It’s not. It’s precision, game-management and staying the hell away from bad plays.

But there was an interview last fall on WEEI in which Brady called himself out – almost unprompted – for having gotten too cautious.

And the drafting of N’Keal Harry on Thursday night should serve as a lure for Brady to keep throwing caution to the wind when the occasion demands it.

To me, the comment Brady made is still eye-opening. He was asked by host Gerry Callahan about the term “game manager” the morning after a win over the Jets.

“I don’t think that’s a negative thing,” said Brady, stating a truth we’ve long since come to accept around here. “A great quarterback to me is one that puts his team in position to win … If you look around for a long time that’s what you see. You’ve gotta help your team to win and you’ve gotta keep your team from losing.

“You handle the ball as much as anyone and the team can’t overcome bad quarterback play,” he said. “If you have bad quarterback play it’s almost impossible to win. You’ll get away with it from time to time but everything is risk-reward.”

Then Brady took a sharp turn into self-critique.

“Maybe part of my problem as I’ve gotten older is I want to make so few mistakes,” he said. “Maybe there’s not as much aggressiveness as I would like because with aggressiveness comes more risk. We have like a 95 percent chance of winning when we don’t turn the ball over and I think that’s always in the back of my mind. So being a little less fearful with the ball and a little more aggressive. I thought we did a better job of that yesterday, and hopefully we can keep that going.”

At that point, the Patriots were 8-3, but two weeks earlier they’d been slapped around in Tennessee and had the bye week to consider what they needed to do better. That Brady veered into confessing he wasn’t playing aggressively enough was hugely revealing. It was an acknowledgment that he needed to maybe show a little more trust in receivers and cut loose.

It’s somewhat understandable Brady had grown into a cautious 41-year-old. He hadn’t had a lot of big, physical, wide receivers that could body a defensive back out of the way like an Anquan Boldin. His guys won on quickness and separation and had been doing so since 2001.  

But when Brady made the statement, he did have a physical wideout. Josh Gordon.

Of course, within two weeks of that statement, Gordon went into a funk before the Steelers game and was suspended days later. Whether he’ll be back or not, we don’t know.

But it’s telling to see the kind of wideout the Patriots drafted Thursday night. It wasn’t a route-running phenom or a three-cone superstar. It was, basically, a junkyard dog. It was a player with modest testing and elite compete. Like an Anquan Boldin (who ran his Combine 40 in 4.73).

Our guy Phil Perry did an outstanding job Thursday night of reading into the why of drafting Harry. Gronk is gone. Gordon may be as well. The Patriots had to get someone with the ability to body somebody out of the way and come down with the ball or Brady would be hitching and second-guessing every time he threw into a little bit of traffic.

All Tom Bradys are really good. But a hesitant Tom Brady is the least preferred.

So now it will be on Brady to get Harry going. He’s going to have to show patience with the 21-year-old and not put him in timeout when he wanders off course. He’s going to have to develop trust with him, something that would be easier to accomplish if Brady were at passing camps, but that doesn’t seem to be in the plan.

The last “high” pick the Patriots spent on a receiver was Aaron Dobson in the second round of 2013. And he was a brilliantly athletic kid who could go and get the ball but he wasn’t physical. Kenbrell Thompkins, undrafted but tough, was a better option for Brady.  

The personality of the Patriots offense changed a bit last year. When the matchup allowed, they became a run-first team and they thrived. Adding a big, possession receiver that has the potential to be a punishing blocker follows in line with that.

With Harry, the Patriots potentially have one of those “even if he isn’t open, he’s open” receivers. The onus will be on Harry to prove to Brady that’s the case. And Brady to give Harry the chance to prove it.

See inside Pats draft room when Harry pick was made>>>>

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Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Agent Don Yee takes aim at the 'collegiate sports industrial complex'

Don Yee is well known as the agent for Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Sean Payton and others.

But his longstanding effort to shine a light on the inequities of what he calls the “collegiate sports industrial complex” may wind up being as impactful on the game of football as the work he’s done with those greats.

This week, I spoke at length to Yee on our podcast about college football at a crossroads in this summer of COVID-19.

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In Yee’s view, the awakening that’s gone on among athletes as they’ve been strung along for months by the Dumb and Dumber coalition of coaches, college presidents and administrators has been building.

“It’s a situation that’s been gaining steam in my view for at least the last 10 to 12 years,” Yee said. “There’s been such a dramatic influx of money into the collegiate sports industrial complex that when you’ve got that kind of money coming in there’s just been a single-minded focus on generating more and more money and that focus unfortunately has taken over … college administrators, college presidents, athletic directors and coaches.

“They’ve actually taken their eye off the ball in that they have completely overlooked the fact that they have a labor force that isn’t being compensated,” Yee added. “In their single-minded pursuit of every single dollar they’ve forgotten about the care and concern of the athletes.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Don Yee and the remedy for college football’s ‘industrial complex’ | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Everyone knows big-time college sports drips with hypocrisy and greed. It’s a shell game in which literally thousands of people wind up splitting the billions of dollars generated every year and the only ones that never see a legal buck of it are the players.

The pretzel logic used to justify it is laughable. The best way to enjoy the product and the games is, literally, to ignore the reality.

Yee has, over the past decade, forced people to look at it.

“Over the decades we’ve created a unique system that doesn’t exist anywhere in the developed world,” he said. “Nowhere in the developed world does this exist. Where you have a system, a small group of football players every year – there’s 130 Division I schools and among those 130 schools let’s say 50 to 60 are the most critical players to that enterprise for that particular season.

"So it’s a few thousand young men and what they do is strap on the equipment and roll out there for an increasingly long season – now as many as 14 games – and go out there and put their bodies on the line to generate substantial amounts of revenue to support the lifestyles of the administrators, the coaches, the coaches in the non-revenue sports, all the non-revenue sports programs and athletes which then – by extension – helps support the U.S. Olympic program (as a breeding ground for the athletes before becoming Olympians).

“The success of the football program also supports the very existence of the university because if the football program has success, the university can then initiate a piggybacking off the excitement and success of the football team and begin multi-billion capital campaigns to build new buildings on campus etc. So all of this is due to the efforts of a very small group of young men every single year. We tolerate it. Ultimately, we get distracted by the pom-poms and the bands.”

Yee and I discussed so much more, including whether he thinks there will be an NFL equivalent to the NBA’s G-League (yes), details on his new venture which will help teams easily find the players they now have to kick over rocks to discover (like Malcolm Butler) and how the change in college will be shepherded in by the players.

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana: Tom Brady hinted at displeasure with Patriots at Super Bowl LIV

Joe Montana has wondered aloud how the New England Patriots could let Tom Brady get away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Based on the conversation he had with Brady in February, though, maybe he should have seen the QB's exit coming.

During an interview Wednesday on ESPN 97.5 Houston's "Jake Asman Show," Montana revealed he talked with Brady at Super Bowl LIV and got the sense the 20-year veteran didn't like his situation.

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"I spoke to Tom while we were back at the Super Bowl," Montana said. "I don't think he was happy with the way things were progressing there and his ability to have input, and I think that was a big decision for him to make to leave there."

Our Tom E. Curran and others have reported that Brady wasn't thrilled about having less of a say in the Patriots' offensive game plan last season, especially after New England mustered just 13 points in a Wild Card Round loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Montana's recollection of his conversation with Brady -- the two QBs were part of an "NFL 100" pregame ceremony at Super Bowl LIV -- certainly lends credence to those reports and suggests Brady was ready to move on from the Patriots after 20 seasons.

It sounds like the 43-year-old quarterback picked the right destination, too: Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich apparently joked that all he has to do with Brady under center is "get out of the way."