Patriots

Phillip Dorsett looks to carve out space in Tom Brady's "Trust Tree" in second season with Patriots

Phillip Dorsett looks to carve out space in Tom Brady's "Trust Tree" in second season with Patriots

FOXBORO -- About a month after the Patriots made the one-for-one deal to acquire Phillip Dorsett for Jacoby Brissett, I happened to ask Danny Amendola what he thought of the team’s newest receiver. He raised his eyebrows, smiled and said simply, “There’s nothing he can’t do.”

I followed up by asking Amendola if could see Dorsett eventually working his way into Tom Brady’s “trust tree.” Again, another smile and a nod for affirmation from Amendola.

“He’s really smart and he’s working. He’ll get there,” he told me.

However in 15 regular season games, Dorsett was infrequently targeted by Brady, only getting 18 balls thrown his way and catching a dozen of them. That trend continued in the postseason but to his credit, the former first round pick out of the University of Miami made them count, with a big catch in both the AFC Title game win over the Jaguars then again in the narrow Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. 

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With the departures of both Amendola and Brandin Cooks, Dorsett has a chance to carve out a bigger role for himself. As one of the few players with experience in the system, it appears he’ll get that opportunity while guys like Kenny Britt (still on PUP), Jordan Matthews, Braxton Berrios and others try to enter the equation. 

“That’s what football is all about,” said Dorsett when I spoke to him. “It’s going out there having fun competing. Every day in life is a competing, at least to me. It’s not just being here out on the field. It’s how i do everything. My dad instilled that in me a long time ago and I’m still having fun with it.”

Dorsett has spent some time working out of the slot here early in training camp. That’s not a role he’s often found himself in. With sprinter’s speed, the 25 year old has been typecast, expecting to fill a role similar to the one Donte’ Stallworth did when he was in New England during the 2007-08 season. Not so fast says Dorsett.

“I can do it,” he told me of playing in the slot. “A lot of people in the past - a lot of coaches - have used me as a vertical receiver because of my speed but I also have quickness. Hopefully I can play well there and show them (the coaching staff).”

That would be an important discovery for the Pats, who must go the first four games without Julian Edelman (PED suspension). With Amendola also gone, there is no natural fit for the slot. Dorsett showed good quickness coming in and out of breaks last year and unlike someone like Cooks, who did some slot work in college, seems to have no fear about going over the middle.

“I feel comfortable playing any position on the field and on any portion of the field,” he said. “That’s what I feel I’m good at: knowing the offense overall, not just learning one position. If I know every position then I can go wherever I need to be. I’m that guy. That’s how i like to do it.”

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Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

If you asked Bill Belichick his opinion of Tom Brady’s media tour this week – Player’s Tribune, Howard Stern – he’d probably snort and wonder why it’s necessary in the first place. Why feed the jackals at all?

But for Brady, not having to ask Belichick’s permission to speak freely (or to deal with the passive-aggressive consequences if he failed to) must be liberating.

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Which is a little sad for an accomplished 42-year-old in a public position, but that was what it was.

Even if Belichick is somewhere rolling his eyes about newly-liberated Brady unburdening himself, it’s obvious this is not a grievance-airing exercise on Brady’s part.

Will that day ever come? Maybe. There are plenty. But the person Brady’s chosen to be in his adult life doesn’t fixate on negativity. And looking at the rough patches and irritations in his 20-year professional marriage to the Patriots – even if they are salacious and interesting because they are secrets well-kept – isn’t the way he rolls. 

He’s a love guy. He’s a Four Agreements guy.

He is publicly living on the post-Patriots high road as the 129-minute interview with Howard Stern showed on Wednesday.

Here are a few takeaways from the fascinating interview.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

It seemed important to Brady that the takeaway to his leaving the Patriots be the simple fact that his desires as a player and Belichick’s as a GM/team builder were at cross purposes.

It wasn’t primarily because Brady felt unappreciated or disrespected at the bargaining table. If he was hit with the truth serum, Brady would concede they were there, but they were symptoms of how Belichick viewed Brady and as opposed to how Brady viewed himself.

And Brady gave Belichick a complete pass for that.

"I think he has a lot of loyalty,” Brady said. “He and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, nor should they be, that so many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me," Brady said.

“Now I'm not going to respond to every rumor or assumption that's made, other than what his responsibility as coach is to get the best player for the team -- not only in the short term but in the long term as well. … I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes had experienced.

“I got to the point where I was an older athlete and he's starting to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is. I don't fault him for that. That's what he should be doing. Not that I would ever coach, but if I was ever in a position of authority, I would understand that too."

This wasn’t a revelation for anyone paying attention.

In December, I laid out the scenario, writing that: 

The Patriots didn’t want to ante up (in 2019) for a 42-year-old quarterback year the same way they didn’t want to ante up for Brady in 2017 when he was 40.

With his 43-year-old season approaching, Brady and his agent Don Yee are going to sit down and ask for a bump to bring him in line with the rest of the league’s best quarterbacks after Brady has one of the worst statistical seasons of his career?

Doesn’t that seem like a request that Bill Belichick would begin to answer with the words, “With all due respect …”?

So where’s that leave Brady? …

Do they even bother sitting down at the table to talk or do they just realize they’ve come to the end of the road?

Do they agree on an amicable divorce because of one irreconcilable difference: Brady believes he can still play at a high level, the Patriots don’t want to take that on faith and don’t love the idea of throwing $25M at the position so Brady can follow that muse.

This season has done nothing to bring the two sides closer together.

What the two sides are headed for isn’t about Sunday’s game or even the 2019 offseason. The night in April 2014 when the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Belichick mentioned Brady’s age and contract status, the die was cast.

People shouldn’t have needed a neon sign pointing them in the direction of what ultimately was going to happen. 

Especially after last August.  

WHEN THE END WAS NEAR

Brady went into training camp last July waiting on a contract extension to take him through 2020. It’s what he expected. The truth was spoken in jest when he was asked about it on the first day of camp and he told the media to “Talk to Mr. Kraft…” before adding “hopefully we can keep it going.” 

When he didn’t get the extension and only got the raise after it came clear how miffed he was, the gig was up. We discussed it at the time on our podcast and the timing of his Brookline home hitting the market was not a complete coincidence. It happened just days after the extension didn’t come to pass. 

As Brady told Stern on Wednesday, “I would say I probably knew before the start of last season that it was my last year," Brady said. "I knew that our time was coming to an end."

Brady’s demeanor in Tennessee when the Patriots showed up for joint practices soon after he agreed to the 2019 raise was somewhat telling. Just Employee No. 12 reporting for duty.

And after Antonio Brown was released, Brady gave an answer to Jim Gray that said exactly that: "The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.” 

ICING OUT WIDE RECEIVERS

Brady told Stern candidly that there were times he bluntly told his coaches that he wasn’t going to throw to players he didn’t trust.

“I would say, ‘I don’t have any trust this guy can help us win the game,'” Brady said. “I definitely expressed my opinion to say, ‘If you put him out there, I’m not going to throw him the ball.’

“Fortunately for me, coach Belichick always saw it the same way, which is why I think we have such a great connection. He saw football very much the same way I saw it...We saw the process of winning very much the same way.”

That set off a round of recency bias in which folks pointed to first-rounder N’Keal Harry as being a player Brady wasn’t interested in throwing to. That was followed by a round of, “Well, if Tom showed up to OTAs …”

The truth is, Brady was resistant to throwing to guys he didn’t trust for most of his Patriots career. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Chad Johnson, Joey Galloway, Aaron Dobson, even Chris Hogan for a big chunk of 2018 and Phillip Dorsett this past season all found themselves outside Brady’s circle of trusted targets.

The fact is, Brady’s demands aren’t just high in terms of route precision, he also wants players to be intuitive in their route-running. If something is taken away, they need to see it like he sees it and react. Which is a very hard tightrope to walk for a player who doesn’t want to screw up and piss Brady off.

It will be interesting to see how tolerant Brady is with brand new targets in Tampa who he won’t have the time to develop chemistry with.

LEGACY

Brady dismissed the notion legacy means much to him. And you have to believe him. But that’s now. Winning his fifth Super Bowl meant something because it pushed him past Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Winning his sixth championship tied him with Michael Jordan. He won an MVP at 40 in 2017. If he played a full season in 2016, he probably would have won it that year as well at 39. He won a Super Bowl at 41. His legacy is intact.

Tampa Bay is gravy and he can play with less stress and more enjoyment, it seems.

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“We all think we’re going to live forever but the reality is we don’t know when our day is going to come,” Brady said. “I could stop playing football because I’m worried about what’s going to happen. Why don’t I live my life the way I want, and enjoy it, the way that is most fulfilling to me? For me, that’s doing what I love to do. You don’t tell a musician to stop singing at age 42. You don’t tell a painter to stop painting at 42.”

Rex Ryan says Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick, was the key to Patriots dynasty

Rex Ryan says Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick, was the key to Patriots dynasty

It's a question we'll never get a definitive answer to. Who was more important to the New England Patriots in their 20-year dynasty, Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?

That debate will only heat up once Brady begins his new chapter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, it was mentioned to Brady on Wednesday during his interview with Howard Stern on SiriusXM, and the ex-Pats quarterback called it a "sh---y argument."

Still, the argument was made shortly thereafter by Rex Ryan on ESPN's "First Take." The former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach says it was Brady, not Belichick, who was the key to New England's six Super Bowl titles.

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“It was definitely Tom Brady,” Ryan said. “If I’ve got to take one I’m taking Brady.”

“Let’s give [Belichick] somebody else, let’s give him [former Jets quarterback] Geno Smith, let’s give him whoever, and let’s see how many Super Bowls he would have won. We saw the answer was zero in Cleveland.”

Watch the full clip below:

Ryan actually makes a fair point, although there certainly seems to be some saltiness on his part since Geno Smith was his QB from 2013-14. Smith didn't take too kindly to his former coach's remarks, either.

Although we'll never know how Brady's Pats career would have gone without Belichick and vice versa, 2020 will be a true test for both New England icons. Brady will look to prove he can duplicate his success in Tampa with Bruce Arians as his head coach, and Belichick will look to do the same likely with Jarrett Stidham under center.