Patriots

Patriots fallout: Taking stock of the damage left by Antonio Brown

Patriots fallout: Taking stock of the damage left by Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown is gone but we are still sifting through the rubble left behind from his 11-day stay.

He was more cyclone than hurricane. He didn’t cause full devastation, just a narrow swath of damage.  Over the course of six days since Brown’s release, a lot’s been said. A lot’s been written. More, probably, has been left unsaid.

The dynamic caused by Brown’s entrance and exit put on display the conflict every team deals with every day. Football vs. Business. The push-pull between putting the best team possible on the field while also protecting the brand built around the 53 players a team chooses to employ.

What’s the tipping point? How badly does a great football player have to act before it’s decided he’s hurting business more than he’s helping?

Depends where you’re viewing it from.  

If you’re Robert Kraft and own the team and sign the checks you’re going to have less patience for a player putting your business and — by extension — you in a negative spotlight.

If you’re Bill Belichick and coach the team and make the personnel decisions, you’ll be in the middle. You’ve earned the latitude to make risky moves because of your track record. The risk-reward is obvious. You can be unstoppable offensively. That’s the holy grail. You’re also asking the owner to enjoy the football and try to tolerate a disruptive, destructive, chaotic person who’s the antithesis of the “team first” mantra the franchise embraces. You know the ice is thin. You just don’t know how thin exactly.

If you’re Tom Brady, you just want good football and peace. You’ll be Father Flanagan. “There is no such thing as a bad boy.” Hurt people hurt people. You’ll help. You’ll tolerate. You’ll live on the sunny side of the street and bring Antonio Brown with you.

Here’s what Brown left behind.  

A bummed-out quarterback who had five practices and one game with an ultra-rare talent. He went all-in trying to make it work, got close to Brown and tried to understand and help him. He’s not happy Brown got flushed both because the football was going to be sublime and Brady thought Brown was reachable.

I was told the practice performance of Brady when Brown was on the field was almost perfect. There were more than a half-dozen plays Brown made that were breathtaking. He was beyond anything Brady ever worked with.

Brady was trying to help Brown stabilize. He disagrees with the business decision made by Robert Kraft to jettison Brown.  

People complain Tom Brady doesn’t give much in the way of answers? He gave it all up Monday regarding Brown when he was on WEEI and said, “You want everyone to become the best they could they could possibly be. And you try to provide leadership and try to care for people. You try to provide whatever you think you can to help them reach their highest potential,” Brady continued. “Whatever situation it is, and I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. So you invest not just your head but you heart, your soul. That’s what makes a great team, that’s what makes a great brotherhood.”

Brady had two comments to Jim Gray on Westwood One Monday night that stood out.

Asked about his comment to Kraft that he was “one million percent in” when the owner and Brady communicated about Brown’s initial signing, Brady said, “Well, that was a private conversation that I wish had remained private.”

That’s now the third time Brady’s reiterated that Kraft’s candor in that instance irritates him.

Brady also said to Gray, emphatically, “I don’t make any personnel decisions. I don’t decide to sign players. I don’t decide to trade then. I don’t decide to release them. I don’t decide to draft them. I don’t get asked, I show up and do my job. I’m an employee like everyone else. I’m going to show this week and do the best I can do as quarterback. … Maybe one day I will be an owner and I can make all the decisions that I want.”

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Which brings us to Bill Belichick. I reported last Friday evening that the decision to release Brown was unanimous, that the threatening texts were a “bridge too far.” After more conversations this week, I’ve come to understand that unanimous decision wasn’t easily reached. Belichick accepted the decision and understood it. But he was by no means leading the charge to move on — and if Kraft hadn’t insisted, Brown would probably still be here.

Which, one can logically conclude, is why Brown made sure to show appreciation for Belichick in social media posts after his release while sending drone strikes at Kraft on Sunday morning.

Why, when asked, “What was the last straw?” did Belichick not at least mumble something to Dana Jacobson about the decision being what was best for the football team? Because he isn’t sold that it was the best thing for the football team. And the real answer, “Robert is the boss and the heat got too hot…” would have been less prudent than an icy stare.  

By laying out the way things went down, I’m not seeing an insurrection against Kraft in the offing.

Brady — as he made very clear — is in, “Don’t ask me, I just work here…” mode. And Belichick has to know that the entire Brown affair has made life more difficult for the owner. They move on.

But there will be fallout and it will be for the owner.

Aside from the “What about Bob?!” dredging up of Kraft’s West Palm Beach embarrassment all week long, now comes a mudwrestle with Brown and his legal team as to whether the team owes him his $9M signing bonus.

And as long as Brown has opposable thumbs and a cell phone, the next salvo from him directed at Kraft is just a malicious whim away.

How many personnel decisions has Kraft insisted be made in 20 years with Belichick? To my knowledge, none. Everybody doesn’t have to like it — and they don’t — but they will have to live with it.

In the end, though, the cyclone known as Antonio is the one to “blame” for the fact the owner, coach and quarterback ended up at odds.

Business could have been boomin’. Instead it went bust.

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Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.