Tom Brady and Robert Kraft are 'hopeful,' but Patriots return more complicated than that

Tom Brady and Robert Kraft are 'hopeful,' but Patriots return more complicated than that

Of all the words Tom Brady said in his postgame press conference Saturday night, "hopefully" was one that stuck out.

Q: Is there any possibility you would retire after this offseason?
TB: I would say it’s pretty unlikely, but — yeah, hopefully unlikely.
We all get why it’s unlikely. Every time he’s given a chance to back off his stated desire to play until he’s 45, he doubles down. He loves to play. He doesn’t suck (that being another requirement for him to hang it up). There’s been no measurable physical dropoff to his agility or arm strength. He doesn’t want to retire, as we’ve reported here for months. 

But why did he feel the need to tack on “hopefully?” Because Brady knows he’s not in total control of where he plays next.

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Even though he’s the greatest quarterback in league history, he still got it in him to believe there’s a chance nobody will want him.

Maybe it comes from being a backup on a winless freshman team in high school. Or buried on the depth chart at Michigan for four years then having to platoon as the starter his senior year. Or being passed over in favor of 198 other players in the 2000 draft. Or Bill Belichick’s sincere effort to find a replacement for Brady beginning in 2014. Or Belichick’s pining for a way to keep Jimmy Garoppolo around. Or the team not giving Brady the extension he expected over the summer.

What’s that old saying? Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you?

Brady is wired to take nothing for granted. To believe he’s as replaceable as Drew Bledsoe and Bernie Kosar were. To understand that, if the Patriots could move on from Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins and all the rest with a handshake and a statement saluting their contributions, the same could happen to him.

Since the Patriots beat Atlanta in Super Bowl 51, Brady’s been hoping for a contract to take him through the 2020 season.  

Instead, in the 2017 offseason, the team kept Jimmy Garoppolo around as insurance in case Brady’s play fell off or he got hurt. When the team couldn’t get Garoppolo to bite on an extension, they dealt him to the 49ers.

Going into 2018, Brady didn’t get a slice of the money the team would have paid Jimmy G. to sit and watch Brady. Instead, Brady got a stack of five incentives that — if he hit them all — would have brought his pay to $20M. He hit none of them.

Before this past season, Brady hoped for an extension similar to the one Drew Brees got the year before — a two-year deal worth about $50M.

Instead, Brady wound up with no extension and an $8M raise to bring him to $23M — way less than the going rate for good quarterbacks, never mind legends.

The Patriots made it clear that, at this point, they want to go “year to year.”

Brady didn’t. He wanted a longer commitment. He signed but — as a chaser — got the Patriots to give up the franchise tag. And that’s the evidence that this is not "about the money.” The franchise tag for quarterbacks in 2020 is going to be about $28M. He would have gotten his raise and more than $50M if he left the Patriots the option to tag him.

Brady wants autonomy. And a little bit of leverage.

What does Bill Belichick want? Well, that’s where the “hopefully” comes in.

Brady tipped his hand a little in the postgame and with Peter King that he prefers to stay here.

“If it’s the Patriots, great,” he told King. “If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Robert Kraft said the same thing but replaced Brady’s “I don’t knows” with the R-word.

"My hope and prayer is number one, he plays for the Patriots," Kraft told King. "Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest."

In order for Brady to stay here, Belichick needs to conclude the offensive dip in 2019 wasn’t about Brady, it was a lack of talent around Brady.

And to reach that conclusion, Belichick would have to agree that he and VP of Player Personnel Nick Caserio failed Brady. Alternately, Belichick can put it on Kraft for releasing Antonio Brown. Or Josh Gordon for slipping. Or injuries. Whatever.

Bottom line, if Belichick believes Brady was part of the problem or won’t be part of the solution, he’s not going to give him a big, fat raise.

More likely, it will be, “See what’s out there, Tom.”

Which means Brady is then tottering over the threshold, blinking up into the bright sun and staring at the void that is unrestricted free agency.

And what if nobody wants him? Most any team would have bumped their guy aside for Tom Brady at 36, 39 or even 42. A 43-year-old whose team went 4-5 down the stretch and lost to the Dolphins and Titans to close out the year?

What if he doesn’t want the teams that want him? If Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry drove Brady nuts even with Josh McDaniels there as a buffer, where is the new city with new teammates, a new offense and new coaches that’s going to make life easier for Brady?

Does he then come back and stand in front of Belichick and make like Richard Gere from An Officer and a Gentleman?

Absurd scenario, right? Or is it? If it were, if Brady himself had an idea what the hell’s going to happen the next two months, he wouldn’t have tacked on that word Saturday night that gave a lot of insight if you’re paying attention.


Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

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These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

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Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

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"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."