Patriots provided one blueprint for handling Alex Cora, but Red Sox ignored it

Patriots provided one blueprint for handling Alex Cora, but Red Sox ignored it

Let us imagine, for a moment, a scenario.

It's 2007, and the Patriots have just been nailed for stealing opposing signals despite an explicit league directive banning the practice. With national reporters swarming Foxboro like the Zerg, owner Robert Kraft assesses the damage to his brand, the importance of integrity to his family, and makes a heart-rending decision -- he must fire Bill Belichick.

Who can blame him? Belichick broke the rules and brought shame to the organization. Not even a pile of Lombardi Trophies justifies the long-term damage to the team's reputation. And so with vampires at his gate demanding blood, Kraft gives it to them and sacrifices his Hall of Fame coach.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

We now know two things, of course. One is that Kraft did not fire Belichick. The other is that it was inarguably the right decision, one that continues to pay dividends more than a decade later. While there's not much the Patriots can do about taunts that they're cheaters, there's also little doubt that they're the NFL's greatest dynasty.

There's a reason Belichick guest-hosted the NFL Network's series on the league's top 100 players, and there's a reason why when all is said and done, the dominant impression of this 20-year run won't be Spygate or Deflategate, but the unprecedented, record-breaking partnership between Belichick and Tom Brady.

None of that happens if Kraft pulls the plug in 2007. But he stood his ground despite intense public pressure, and has since reaped the rewards.

This alternate history, this road not taken, feels relevant today, given a very different choice made by Red Sox ownership in response to a remarkably similar scandal.

On Tuesday, the club and manager Alex Cora "mutually agreed to part ways," which is corporate jargon for, "we have unilaterally decided to part ways." A bombshell MLB report had just fingered Cora as the mastermind of a sign-stealing scheme in Houston involving replay cameras, dugout monitors, and one resonant trash can.

The Red Sox digested this report for a day before announcing Cora's departure. They based their decision, according to ownership, solely on his actions in Houston and what was laid out in the report. It doubtlessly didn't help his cause that he's facing a lengthy suspension, probably at least a year, and maybe longer.

It's hard to criticize the Red Sox for acting decisively; Cora's actions embarrassed the organization. And far be it from me to suggest that anyone, in any sport, belongs in the same sentence as Belichick.

But I'm coming to believe the Red Sox should've stood by their man à la the Patriots, especially since the behavior they found so egregious occurred while he worked as a subordinate for another franchise.

Add their strangely smug confidence that the commissioner's investigation into their own championship season of 2018 will exonerate them (and therefore Cora, too, to a degree), and a case can be made that they fired him out of expediency at the expense of their long-term interests.

"They had no choice!" many have argued. And to that I say, why?

I don't buy for a second that Cora had lost his clubhouse. My guess is the players were well aware of his actions in Houston -- he didn't try to hide his admiration for co-conspirator Carlos Beltran and his ability to decipher signs by any means possible. Whatever Cora oversaw in Boston, it doesn't sound like there was much clubhouse dissent.

It's hard to overstate Cora's importance to the organization. He united disparate departments and communities like no one before him. He's the rare ex-player who embraces and understands new-school analytics. He's bilingual, which allows him to bridge gaps in a melting-pot clubhouse.

I've had half a dozen people at all levels of the organization tell me how much he'll be missed, all with a similar story -- he made everyone feel important, even the junior nobodies. He spent some of his last hours as a Red Sox employee consulting with player development about the farm system. He is personable, passionate, and driven, and he had a hand in everything.

Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts didn't waste words when asked what kind of manager the Red Sox should hire next.

"Someone like him," he said.

As scandalous and raw as this feels now, time has a way of smoothing edges and soothing nerves. A year from now, after a lengthy contrition tour, Cora might've been able to resume his duties. We'll never know if he could've survived the fallout, because the Red Sox never gave him the chance.

That's certainly their right, but imagine how different the Patriots would look today if they had reached the same conclusion more than a decade ago.

Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Tom Brady doesn't officially become a free agent until the new league year begins on March 18, but the rumors are already flying about the New England Patriot quarterback's future.

A report surfaced earlier in the week that Brady and his family purchased a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. As NBC Sports Boston's own Tom E. Curran pointed out, that is false.

But that doesn't mean Brady isn't planning on making a move.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Thursday night on "Arbella Early Edition," Gary Tanguay revealed that a source told him Brady and wife Gisele Bundchen are looking to leave New England.

"I was told today by a source the family is planning to leave the area," Tanguay said. "The priority this time is to let the kids finish school this year, then they're gone."

Tanguay's report doesn't mean Brady is definitely leaving New England, but talks of him and his family looking to live somewhere else continue to gain steam.

If Brady indeed is moving on from New England and looking to start a new chapter, some of that could do with his desire to finally make the money he's worth in free agency.

According to Tanguay, Brady is "embarrassed" by the number of quarterbacks in the league that make more than him and has been fed up about it dating back to the summer, before he signed his contract extension.

Thirteen quarterbacks, including Brady's former backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, make more on average annually than the six-time Super Bowl champion according to overthecap.com.

The truth is, we won't know for certain what's going through Brady's mind until the ink is on paper for the 42-year-old's new contract. Until then, it's going to be a stressful offseason for Patriots fans.

Curran: Is this newfound time a silver lining for Patriots?

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

curran_patriots_talk_podcast.png
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

Needless to say, it's unusual for the New England Patriots to have so much down time in January. Typically, they're playing in the AFC Divisional Round. And the AFC Championship Game. And often, the Super Bowl.

But this year, they were eliminated in the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2009. And now, they have a lot of time on their hands.

And while their early playoff exit was surely discouraging, the Patriots could stand to benefit from this extra time.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discussed how the Patriots could utilize the extra time and the positive impact it could have on the organization.

Click here to subscribe to the Tom E. Curran Patriots Talk Podcast

Curran pointed out that because the team has so often been playing into February, their already thin staff has been stretched thin come draft season, which explains why the team has had some draft misses in recent seasons.

Really, it comes down to 312 days of prepreparation were sacrifice. And so for a bare bones organization in terms of both front office and coaching staff -- these guys have had shorter offseasons by a month on average than any other team in the NFL.

So on one hand, it's remarkable and it's a high-class problem. On the other hand, isn't it somewhat inevitable that you might have some draft swings and misses?

Perry agreed with Curran and brought up that the fact that the extra time off will give Belichick a real chance to thoroughly evaluate his roster.

I think for a team that is looking at a reboot, one of the sort of ironic things about that is that now you have time to really think that through in more detail and not to say that Bill Belichick isn't planning or looking at his roster, how it's constructed, how the contracts set up and trying to plan ahead. I'm sure he is doing that to a certain extent.

But you can only spend so much time on those things when you're getting ready for the divisional round, the AFC Championship Game every year, the Super Bowl every other year.

This surely makes sense and is definitely a positive for the Patriots. Perhaps with that extra time, Belichick can find a way to retain Tom Brady while significantly upgrading his supporting cast.

For more on the Patriots offseason plans, potential changes in their front office, and predictions for the AFC and NFC Championship Games, check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.