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ESPN story about Patriots coming

Houston Texans v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots speaks with owner Robert Kraft before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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Patriots fans and ESPN have had a contentious relationship in recent years. It could soon be getting more contentious.

PFT has confirmed, as reported by Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch, that ESPN will publish a new story about the Patriots on Friday. The focal point reportedly will be the relationship between quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft and, specifically, the existence of a rift among the three central figures in the 16-year run of unparalleled NFL success.

Allen contends that the ESPN report will explain the struggle flows from the question of which member of the trio deserves the most credit for the franchise’s success, and that the report suggests the rift is so severe that this could be the last year that the three men work together. According to Allen, the ESPN report also claims that Brady went to Kraft to force the trade that sent Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers.

A source with knowledge of the ESPN report tells PFT that the ESPN report will not contend that Brady tried to force a trade. Beyond that, the specifics of the report aren’t currently known.

Whatever the specifics, it’s inconceivable that the Patriots would have traded Garoppolo if they had any doubt about Brady’s desire and/or ability to play for the team in 2018. The trade happened presumably because Garoppolo was unwilling to sign a contract that would have paid him high-end backup money until Brady finally retires.

But even if the team believed there was any chance that Brady would leave, voluntarily or otherwise, after the 2017 season, the smart play would have been to let the next several months play out. If, ultimately, Brady hadn’t retired and the Patriots had decided not to use the franchise tag on Garoppolo in order to kick the can into 2019 (or for an attempted Matt Cassel-style tag-and-trade), the Patriots could have allowed Garoppolo to walk away as a free agent, setting the stage for a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 -- which isn’t dramatically lower than the second-round pick they’ll get in 2018 as a result of the Garoppolo deal to San Francisco.

Putting it another way, if the Brady-Belichick-Kraft partnership were careening toward some sort of critical mass, there would have been no reason to dump Garoppolo in late October for a 2018 second-round pick. Instead, the right move would have been to wait it out and to make decisions about Brady and Garoppolo after the season ends.