There’s a persistent belief that, before Tom Brady hits free agency, Robert Kraft will swoop in and make sure Brady stays right where’s he’s been for 20 seasons.
That’s not going to happen.
The Patriots, as we first reported Super Bowl Sunday are willing to “extend” themselves to get a deal done. And if the gap between Brady and the team is narrow, then Kraft will actively encourage both Brady and Bill Belichick to bridge that gap.
But we confirmed this week what we were told a month ago: that if it’s a chasm – and real negotiations have yet to begin – Kraft will not intercede despite his long-stated preference that Brady retires a Patriot.
Kraft opened the door for Brady to decide his future when he agreed the Patriots wouldn’t use the franchise tag on Brady in 2020. The owner is similarly committed to letting Belichick decide the football future of the team.
Kraft knows the fastest route to franchise dysfunction would be forcing the quarterback on Belichick for sentimental reasons.
The Patriots are what they are in large part because of Brady. His play. His leadership. His willingness not to be what the Patriots used to refer to as “a pig at the trough” when it came to negotiating contracts.
But the team-building, economic and cultural values Belichick laid down two decades ago are the real foundation of their success.
Belichick has shown time and again a willingness to make painful personnel decisions other franchises might not have the stomach for. Moving on from Brady is in a different universe than trading Logan Mankins or cutting Lawyer Milloy. He’s objectively the most successful player in NFL history.
Belichick won’t open a vein and bleed sadness publicly but it’s no doubt painful for him as well to envision Brady in a different uniform. But it is what it is.
If you’re paying close attention, you can already see the evidence of Kraft refusing to bigfoot Belichick on this.
When training camp opened last August and Brady was asked whether he’d earned an extension, he answered, “Have I earned one? I don't know, that's up for talk show debate. What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on."
There’s no debate Brady thought he’d earned one. Since signing a very modest two-year, $41 million extension in 2016, the team had been to three consecutive Super Bowls, winning two. Brady threw for 505 yards in the one they lost.
Brady’s appeal fell on deaf ears. There would be no extension for 2019 and beyond. Just a modest pay raise. That outcome so rankled the Brady camp that the request was made to have the franchise tag option removed. Done.
And here we are.
The fact is, Kraft had thought he drew up the contract to take Brady into retirement back in 2013. The modest five-year, $57M agreement drawn up on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles took Brady through his 40-year-old season in 2017. It allowed the team plenty of maneuverability to sign other players.
Speaking to Peter King about the deal, Kraft said he “[Wanted] to do something elegant that would work for everybody. I had been talking to him off and on for maybe 18 months, about how I wanted him to finish his career here, and about how we both have to be smart about it. I just really want him to end his career a Patriot.”
So why – despite the fact Brady was desirous of a longer and more true-to-market deal than the one he signed in 2016 and never got one – is there a perception Kraft will intervene to ensure the soon-to-be-43-year-old Brady remains a Patriot?
Because people mistakenly believe that Kraft intervened before.
The most explosive part of Seth Wickersham’s 2018 story for ESPN detailing turmoil in Foxboro was the allegation that Kraft forced Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers.
Kraft vehemently pushed back on that part of Wickersham’s story within 24 hours, saying, it was “fiction” that he gave Belichick a mandate or even met with the coach about it.
When I recently asked Kraft about people expecting him to step in now because of the belief he did in 2017, Kraft said of that report, “It’s a lie.”
While much of Wickersham’s story was spot-on about the tension present at that time, the mandate and other details in the story – such as Garoppolo being offered a four-year extension by New England that would have paid him around $17M annually – are suspect.
Despite that and Kraft’s pushback, fans and media don’t buy it. Which is an irritation for Kraft because it plays into a trope that Kraft is a meddlesome owner. The “cook the dinner, shop for the groceries” barb launched at Kraft by Bill Parcells 23 years ago hit its mark and left a permanent mark.
In Pete Carroll’s three-year run with the team starting in 1997, the owner was consistently lampooned in the local media as being overly involved. When Belichick took over in 2000, Kraft took a giant step back and let Belichick do his work which included lopping off valued veterans like Ben Coates, Bruce Armstrong, Drew Bledsoe and Milloy in quick succession. All for the good.
Despite those moves and dozens like them in the 20 years since, the belief that a sentimental Robert Kraft is going to intercede now and overrule Belichick’s wishes won’t go away.
He won’t. There’s no debating how Kraft would like to see this impasse resolved. But this is for Tom and Bill to work out.