Seth Wickersham

Robert Kraft will not overstep to make sure Tom Brady remains with Patriots

Robert Kraft will not overstep to make sure Tom Brady remains with Patriots

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.

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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.

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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.

Report: Kraft 'absolutely' believes Belichick stays with Pats

Report: Kraft 'absolutely' believes Belichick stays with Pats

Robert Kraft tells Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he "absolutely" believes Bill Belichick will coach the Patriots next season and an ESPN report describing Pats dysfunction is "a total fabrication and fiction."

King writes: "In a telephone interview, Kraft disputed all tenets of the story." In particular, Kraft told King that the ESPN report by Seth Wickersham that included detailing a half-day meeting between the Patriots coach and owner on the subject of backup quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo is “a total fabrication and fiction. I am telling you, it’s fiction.”

Wickersham told King he stands by his story.

Kraft, Belichick and Tom Brady released a joint statement in response to the story Friday, denying its claims and concluding with the phrase "we stand united."

Earlier Saturday, in response to a New York Daily News report that turmoil in Foxboro has given Belichick "an opening" to seek the New York Giants head coaching job, ESPN's Adam Schefter shot that down. 

Said Schefter: “First of all, if we are going to talk about Bill Belichick to the New York Giants, he has time left on his contract. You think Robert Kraft is just going to let him out? And you think if Bill Belichick wants to quit, they are just going to let him go to the Giants? And do you think Bill Belichick at his age right now wants to go take over a start-over, rebuilding job? And do you think he wants to take over a team where has a new GM that he hasn’t worked with? And do you think he wants to take over a situation where there is not a quarterback? I am sure the 49ers before they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo wanted Aaron Rodgers to come back home, or Tom Brady to come back home. I am sure there are many situations like that.”

Listen below for NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran's assessment of the Kraft-Belichick-Brady drama in Quick Slants The Podcast:

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PODCAST: Bill Belichick wouldn't be dictated to...by anyone

PODCAST: Bill Belichick wouldn't be dictated to...by anyone

In a brand new episode of "Quick Slants The Podcast presented by Papa Gino's", Tom Curran weighs in on the ESPN story by Seth Wickersham on dysfunction among Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, including what his sources are telling him concerning different parts of the story.

Two key questions Tom discusses - Are there people in Foxboro that feel there are real issues? Also, are we at the end...Will Belichick and Brady be back in 2018?

Curran also talks about the contract offer for Jimmy Garoppolo. Was the money ever the real issue, or did it always come down to playing time?

Also, the Alex Guerrero aspect. The Wickersham story made to sound there was a quid pro quo…see Alex, you’re Brady’s friend. The truth is players go to him because he’s good. Gronk couldn’t keep training the same way he had been. Gronk went to Guerrero because it’s good for Gronk, not because of Brady. Did Alex Guerrero cold shoulder Jimmy Garoppolo?

Plus, Tom Brady wasn't a mentor to Garoppolo, but that’s no sin as a teammate.

Is there really a power struggle between Kraft, Belichick and Brady of who is most responsible for the franchises' success?