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Four takeaways from ESPN’s article on the Patriots

Pulling out what does and does not matter from Seth Wickersham’s piece and what it could mean going forward.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday morning, ESPN published an in-depth article by Senior Writer Seth Wickersham that detailed some of the inner issues and developments that have been rumbling around the Boston sports media since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers back in October. In this article, Wickersham described a rift in the relationship between quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick that has been brewing for some years.

There are many alleged causes of this rift. Brady’s personal trainer and close friend Alex Guerrero, who has garnered attention for his suspect history, has been a topic of discussion for months now since the team revoked his sideline access and is believed to be one of the root causes of the increased tension between Brady and Belichick.

Brady’s age and specifically, Jimmy Garoppolo’s position as the potential successor to Brady, have also apparently played a significant role in the strain in the relationship between the coach and quarterback. Wickersham claims that owner Robert Kraft got involved and mandated that Belichick trade Garoppolo, something that infuriated Bill. The article is must read for any fan of the game and offers a lot of potential insight into an otherwise secretive organization. There is a lot of information to digest from this article and so I will give my key takeaways.

1. Alex Guerrero and his influence on Brady

Alex Guerrero is a fraud and a con artist. His prior work has been well documented and his claims are ludicrous. Guerrero, a self-proclaimed doctor who has a degree in Chinese Medicine from the now defunct Samra University in Los Angeles, has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for his loose usage of the term doctor and for the claims that his supplements could cure and prevent AIDS and Cancer. The man created a drink that he claimed could prevent concussions called Neurosafe. Let that sink in for a second. A drink… that somehow protects the brain from blunt force trauma…

But despite Guerrero’s ridiculous claims, Brady has decided to associate himself with someone of this type of reputation. It annoys me and it is quite honestly sad to see a person of Brady’s stature and intelligence be influenced by a guy that is simply marketing eating healthy and stretching a lot. These are not brand-new revelations. It’s common sense. It is pretty clear to me that Guerrero is using Brady’s insecurities about his age and longevity to influence him and push his whacky health ideas to the masses.

Belichick was right to revoke Guerrero’s sideline access. He is having a palpable effect on the players, the training staff, and the entire team. He is an unnecessary distraction for an organization that has spent a good amount of time and money on their training staff and has done everything they can to try and help players prevent/recover from injuries.

2. How Brady is portrayed

This article does not paint Brady in a good light. It cannot be denied that Brady has changed these past couple of seasons. In years prior, Brady was, just like Belichick, secretive. What made the two so perfect for each other was that all they cared about was football and family. But now with Brady branching out into his TB12 venture, it seems that he may have gotten lost in all of this health junk. With all of this talk about pliability (which is not a new concept), the outbreaks on the sidelines, and Garoppolo being locked out of the TB12 performance center, it seems as if Brady knows the end is closer than the age 45 benchmark that he set for himself.

While Brady may not have been involved in that Garoppolo fiasco, and maybe all of this can be attributed to Brady’s hyper competitiveness that has helped him become the GOAT, something can be said about Brady and how he has played a role in what has become a major distraction for the team. This team has prided itself on focusing strictly on football, something we see during their press conferences. But now, one of its major pieces is allowing an outsider and close friend to cause problems among players and team personnel instead of cutting it off like Brady does to reporters on a weekly basis.

3. Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft is a great owner. He has been a pillar in this community, he has had the back of his players, and he has not been afraid to spend money to help improve the franchise. The team has done a complete 180 since he took over as owner. But one of the things that also made Kraft such a great owner was that he knew his boundaries; he stayed out of football operations, something Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones is notoriously bad at doing. Belichick, being one of the greatest football minds to ever coach in the NFL, was allowed to do what he thought was best for the New England Patriots and he did that most of the time.

But as Wickersham asserts, Kraft got involved in the departure of Jimmy Garoppolo. This is not news if you follow local Boston media (and even some national personalities like Colin Cowherd). I do not necessarily believe that Kraft forced Belichick to trade Garoppolo, but I do believe that Kraft played a major role in the deadline deal. The Patriots are famous for getting rid of players a year early instead of a year too late. Whether it be Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, or Logan Mankins, the Patriots have a long history of doing this and it is one of the reasons why they have been so good for so long. But when it came to the most important position on the field, Kraft got involved.

4. The Future

This is my main takeaway of the article. Many local Boston Media have come out to discredit tiny tidbits of this article. Things like whether the Patriots actually formally offered Garoppolo a new contract worth $17 million annually or if players refer to Brady as “sir” are honestly unimportant and are just there for context. If you are a true die-hard Patriot fan, one that cares not just about Brady and everything he has done for this organization, then this article should concern you. If you are a real fan who cares about the success and longevity of one of the greatest franchises in the history of sports, you should be worried about the state of the Patriots moving forward.

We are fortunate to have witnessed this unparalleled stretch of dominance that Bill, Brady, and Kraft have been able to put together since 2000. It will never be repeated again. If we’re being honest, none of this will have an effect on this year’s team. If you believed that the team would win the Super Bowl before this article was released, then you probably believe that they are even more likely to win it all. “They hate us cuz they ain’t us!” That has been the rallying call for fans post-deflategate and I too believe they will still be able to win the Super Bowl this year.

Egos and rifts have existed in sports for years. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were not always on the best of terms as we found out after they both retired, but they were able to win six championships. Shaq and Kobe famously feuded during their three-peat. The Celtics during the Big 3 era had many feuds between players like Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Head Coach Doc Rivers but they still won in 2008. Great players and coaches are able to put aside any differences they may have and still be successful.

But with that being said, we must be able to balance these Super Bowl expectations with some of the potential consequences that these issues could have. You have to be able to look past the short-term implications because truthfully speaking there are no short-term implications of this alleged rift. All of this media attention will most likely serve as a rallying call for the Patriots inside of the locker room. The triumvirate will definitely be back next year (and hopefully the year after) and they’ll be right in thick of things in the playoffs.

But long term, the fallout of this rift has left the Patriots devoid of a definitive succession plan for their 40-year-old quarterback. Yes, the Patriots could easily draft the next Jimmy Garoppolo in this year’s quarterback-rich draft. But if the Ryan Mallets, the Matt Cassels, and the Brian Hoyers of the world have taught us anything, drafting a franchise quarterback is something even Belichick is not adept at. Based off of everything we have seen from the Eastern Illinois alum, Garoppolo was the Patriots' quarterback for the next 10+ years, and that will not be easy to find again.

Furthermore, Belichick might have been alienated throughout this entire ordeal. When speaking of Kraft and his involvement in Garoppolo’s trade to San Francisco, Wickersham points out something we have always known about Belichick, but have never had to apply to the Patriots.

Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable.

I have always been of the belief that Belichick is more responsible for the Patriots' dynasty than Brady. Not only is he the head coach and strategist, but he is also the General Manager who makes the roster moves. If these revelations are in fact true, Belichick’s imminent departure from the franchise, which we all knew was closer to the end than the beginning, may have been expedited. I am not claiming that Bill will be gone after this year or next. But the idea that Belichick wanted to step away from the team after he had successfully secured its quarterback for the next 10+ years and its successor to Bill, whether it be one of his sons or someone else, could be out of the window. If Brady truly plans on playing until he is 45 years old, Bill could be gone by then, and with him the true key to the Patriots’ longevity.

Picture this: a 43-year-old Tom Brady comes out to the first practice of the Patriots’ 2020 training camp with the young quarterback of your choice from this year’s draft running by his side. There is no Josh McDaniels or Matt Patricia as they accepted head coaching positions elsewhere after the conclusion of the 2017 season (something a lot of people believe will occur). Bill Belichick has retired, leaving his position as Head Coach and General Manager to be filled by a new duo whose football expertise and experience does not collectively come close to Belichick’s. That young quarterback you chose has not panned out the way fans had hoped he would. Brady, who was given the security as a 40-year-old, is still the Patriots quarterback, but is coming off of divisional round losses in two consecutive years. The outlook of the team continues to plunge each season as key members and contributors age and depart.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, Jimmy Garoppolo has turned the 49ers into a consistent playoff team with Super Bowl aspirations as Patriot fans miserably think of what could have been. This is not the scenario I believe we will find ourselves in, but it is a possibility. And the fact that this is a real potential outcome has to worry Patriot fans.