The question of Brady vs. Belichick makes a great debate for historians assigning credit to the NFL's most enduring dynasty.
Colleague Tom Curran is more qualified than anyone to render a verdict, and he split it down the middle — give Belichick the first decade and Brady the second.
But Tom vs. Bill isn't just an issue of past and present. It also applies to the future.
And in that context there's only one answer, which explains why Tom Brady is being fitted for the color rush equivalent of a Nyquil bottle in Tampa Bay and Bill Belichick will continue sawing the sleeves off his hoodies in Foxboro, plotting the next great Patriots team.
With or without Brady, the dynasty is over. The roster is too old, overpaid, and inflexible. The offense lacks game breakers, the defense needs playmakers, and both sides of the ball are desperate for youth.
It's the inevitable result of three Super Bowl titles since 2014 and, on some level, the price of greatness.
The sooner the rebuild can break ground, the better, and keeping Brady around at age 43 and 44 impedes that mission, especially when the architect turns 68 in a month and only has so many years of this left.
If that sounds cold and emotionless, have you met Bill Belichick? His tenets of team building ultimately apply to everyone, even the greatest quarterback ever. As it is, Belichick made considerable concessions for Brady, from not starting a war over yacht diving in Monaco during voluntary workouts, to tolerating the presence of life/business partner Alex Guerrero (at least until he didn't), to looking the other way during the making of Tom vs. Time.
But most of all, Belichick stuck with Brady far longer than anyone had any right to expect.
He drafted and developed Brady's heir apparent at what felt like the perfect time, except Brady had other ideas that rendered the succession plan impractical. So Belichick shipped Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco with an annoyed snort and then watched him lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl in his first full season.
There's no Garoppolo on the roster now, unless Jarrett Stidham is preparing a very big surprise, but that's OK. If you're Robert Kraft, the sooner Belichick became a solo act, the better, because the only chance of the organization completing its most unlikely transformation yet is under Belichick's watchful, obsessive eye. I believe there's even a phrase for this — In Bill We Something Something.
Last year showed what happens when a dying dynasty desperately tries to appease its exacting and yet diminishing quarterback.
You flush $10 million on a human fault line like Antonio Brown and then seek shelter when his inevitable eruption blankets Foxboro in volcanic ash. You waste a second-round pick on Mohamed Sanu, who sprains an ankle in Week 11 and makes zero impact thereafter. You give rookies N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers menial chores like emptying the dishwasher and bringing up the barrels, because the quarterback trusts neither of them to start the lawnmower.
That dynamic only projected to worsen in 2020 (if there is a 2020), and so the Patriots made their choice. Could they have handled it better? Of course.
Brady deserved a straight "no," rather than passive-aggressive leaks suggesting he owed the team a proposal. He deserved better than the insult of being told to take or leave a one-year offer made last August, before he even reached free agency. He deserved better than inelegant "CYA" spin portraying his departure as his decision and his alone.
The Patriots made their choice and it was correct. Long live the Brady vs. Belichick debate, which deserves to remain unresolved, so essential were both men to the greatness of the last two decades.
But let's call the other Brady vs. Belichick debate right now, because it was never a debate at all. The day was always going to come when the future of the franchise depended on Bill going it alone.