Tom Brady free agency: When the GOAT feels like a lame duck

Tom Brady free agency: When the GOAT feels like a lame duck

It will be one thing if, after thorough and earnest negotiations, Tom Brady decides to wander off into free agency.

It will be quite another if Bill Belichick appears to hand Brady his hat and open the door to let him leave.

In 17 days, teams can begin legally making their pitches to Brady’s agent, Don Yee. In 19 days, Brady will become a free agent. So far? No talks.

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Earlier this week, a report emerged that the Patriots were “expected” to meet with Yee at the NFL Combine this week. I contacted a source to confirm. The source asked if I knew who was “expecting” this meeting. The inference? No meeting was on the docket. I was told to be skeptical of the report. Be skeptical of everything, actually.

Meeting, no meeting, in a vacuum, it’s not a big deal. It’s still early-ish. There’s no need for widespread panic.

But perception – like it or not – does matter. And not just to fans and media.

If Belichick wants to slow play negotiations because that’s how the Patriots do it, that gives Brady more evidence that it’s no skin off Belichick’s nose whether Brady stays or goes.

And before you say, “Well, Brady’s just being tender," understand the backdrop.

Protracted negotiations last summer didn’t yield the extension Brady wanted. There was no extension in the summer of 2018; just a handful of bonuses Brady had little shot at achieving. Nothing at all happened in the summer of 2017 after the Super Bowl win over the Falcons despite Brady reportedly making it clear he wanted a new deal.

As I’ve reported, this isn’t about money for Brady. It’s about removing the feeling that he’s only here because a better option hasn’t yet emerged. Everybody else agrees he’s the GOAT. Meanwhile, he feels like a lame duck.

Inevitably, that's led to Brady envisioning himself listening to offers from teams that don’t look at him as a handsome roll of human duct tape.

Everybody else agrees he’s the GOAT. Meanwhile, he feels like a lame duck.

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington – who is sharp on the Brady beat – said Thursday that Brady is “looking forward to” free agency.  He added he’d be “stunned” if Brady stayed.

Personally, I wouldn’t be stunned if he stayed. I believe Brady’s preference is staying in New England under the right circumstances. But I also sense there’s excitement about hearing offers and having options.

That excitement will grow the more Brady perceives ambivalence on the Patriots' part.

This is where it has to get uncomfortable for Robert Kraft. The owner has made it very clear he wants Brady to finish his career with his team.

But he also wants to be minimally involved with these negotiations because he doesn’t want either of his employees feeling they’re being forced into something.

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Kraft agreed to Brady’s request to have the potential 2020 franchise tag removed from the Patriots' arsenal because Kraft didn’t want Brady feeling trapped against his wishes. Kraft felt that, after a couple of decades of unprecedented success, Brady deserved to have that wish granted.

Meanwhile, Kraft has been (contrary to perception) hands-off when it comes to Brady. Belichick knows what’s best for the football team. It’s demonstrated. If Belichick wants to go year-to-year with Brady – even if Brady is pissed about that – that’s what they are going to do.

Kraft didn’t intercede when it came time to trade Jimmy Garoppolo – the owner stridently denies that – but the belief he did has led to an unrealistic expectation he’ll swoop in to make sure Brady stays.

He won’t. If the two sides are close, he’ll do everything he can to get a deal done. But he’s not interceding.

So that leaves it to Belichick. And a half-hearted attempt to convince Brady to stay is not going to cut it.

As much as Belichick probably recoils at the thought of a dog-and-pony show to satisfy “optics” and avoid the cringe-inducing charge that foot-dragging is “a bad look,” the news void is being filled with speculation that the Patriots don’t give a crap one way or another.

Who cares about optics and perception? How many times has Belichick been on the receiving end of a national finger wag about something he said, didn’t say or did that was unanimously dubbed a “BAD LOOK!”?

How many times has he walked out of that fire like a hooded Dany Targaryen? Pretty much every time.

Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China

Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China

The New England Patriots, owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft teamed up with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to transport over 1 million N95 protective masks from China to the United States on Thursday.

That's the headline. But there's a whole lot more to the story.

Jonathan Kraft joined 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday to share more details on the elaborate, multi-day process that led to the Patriots commissioning their team plane to bring much-needed supplies back to Massachusetts to aid health care workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Kraft, the plan all started when Baker called him while he was in a virtual meeting with the Massachusetts General Hospital finance committee. (Kraft is a member of the MGH Board of Trustees.)

"The governor said to me, 'I am so ---ing frustrated. ... I have had a couple of big batches of PPE (personal protective equipment), and at the end of the day they just haven't come through,' " Kraft said.

"And (Baker) said, 'We just through a third party secured well over 1 million masks, N95s, in China. But we have no way of getting them here. The supply chains are totally frozen. Do you think people who have airplanes would be willing to fly over?"

That's when Kraft had the idea to use the Patriots' team plane, a wide-body Boeing 767 that's bigger than most commercial jets.

"I said, 'You know what, our team flies around on a 767 ... and we have a huge cargo hold on that," Kraft told Baker.

Fast forward to this week, when the "Air Kraft" was en route to China via an overnight stop in Alaska. But a host of logistics had to be worked out before then, from getting special permission from the FAA to fly a "humanitarian mission" to securing a safe landing zone in China -- to making sure the plane was ready for a such a long flight.

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"First, we had to make sure the plane was equipped with the right software. It needed one upgrade," Kraft said.

Once the plane landed in Shenzen, China, there was another logistical challenge: The plane could only be on the ground for three hours, and no one could leave the plane during that period due to concerns over contracting the virus.

"If we had a maintenance or a tech issue, our maintenance or tech guys couldn't have gotten off the plane to correct it," Kraft said. "Once the pilots left the plane, they would need to be in quarantine for 14 days."

What followed was a three-hour rush to load roughly 1.2 million masks onto the Patriots' team plane that was barely completed in time.

"It was like a NASCAR pit stop," Kraft said. "Fortunately we didn't have any mechanical issues, and we got it done with about three or four minutes to spare and got back in the air for what was a nine-hour flight back (to Alaska)."

That's just a sampling of the details Kraft shared about the incredible trip, which ended successfully Thursday night when the Air Kraft landed at Boston's Logan Airport. (Kraft's full interview is worth a listen.)

But the journey ultimately was a success, and Mass. health care workers are certainly grateful as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to climb.

Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard eager to get started after Tom Brady's arrival

Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard eager to get started after Tom Brady's arrival

O.J. Howard could benefit from Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers more than any other player on the team.

Brady has targeted tight ends quite often throughout his 20-year career, and his connection with future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski was legendary. Howard obviously isn't as talented as Gronkowski, but the 2017 first-round pick does have some of the same physical traits. The Bucs tight end is listed at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, and his speed is better than you might expect from a player with that much size and strength.

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians even admitted last week that Howard's eyes should "light up" given Brady's history of success with tight ends.

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Howard could finally have a breakout season in 2020 with Brady throwing him the football, so he's understandably eager to get to work with the six-time Super Bowl champion. 

“For me, like everyone else, I was hearing the rumors about it, but I had to make sure it was true,” Howard recently said in a team interview. “When he signed, and I knew it was official, it was awesome.  Tom is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. So, to be able to have a guy like that with the leadership ability and a known winner on your team, it’s very encouraging to hear.”

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Brady isn't the only impactful move the Bucs have made in free agency. They've also upgraded their offensive line and brought back three important players -- Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh -- to a defense that excelled over the second half of the 2019 season.

"We brought our guys back, we got back Shaq, Suh, JPP -- all those guys," Howard said. "Those guys had a heck of a (2019) season. That's encouraging, to see our defense come back. Everybody is on the same page. The future is bright for us. I'm just ready to get it in motion."

Oddsmakers are similarly excited about the Buccaneers' upcoming season. They've given Tampa Bay the fifth-best betting odds to win Super Bowl LV, which actually will be played at the Bucs' home arena, Raymond James Stadium.