Yesterday, organized team activities opened across the NFL and some notable players were nowhere to be found. Among the group of absentees were the New England Patriots' two biggest stars in quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Both are expected back on the field once the mandatory portion of offseason workouts begin in early June but for now they have decided to sit out voluntary workouts.
Brady's absence in particular – he is the only starting quarterback to skip OTAs – made the media rounds yesterday. Patriots Wire's Henry McKenna thinks that it “matters enormously.” NBC Boston's Tom Curran believes that it “underscores just how dug in Brady is“ in his confrontation with head coach Bill Belichick. ESPN's Adam Schefter sees this as “a red flag that says all is not perfectly well.“ The Boston Sports Journal's Greg Bedard writes that this situation “is a bad look.”
All those opinions are certainly valid as this is the latest culmination of all the smoke that has been coming out of Foxboro for the last few months. They also reflect that the 2018 offseason is different for the Patriots' quarterback compared to the last few. But how big of a deal is Brady’s absence really in the grand scheme of things? Probably not as big as some headlines and speculations make believe.
We know that the whole affair is complicated with Brady, Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft all possibly involved. We also know that Brady – habitually underpaid compared to his peers – has not yet received the usual contract extension he gets when there are but two seasons left on his deal. Furthermore, we know that the greatest quarterback of all time has put an emphasis on trying to balance his football life and his family life this offseason.
Brady acknowledged this when he publicly spoke at the Milken Institute Global Conference in California earlier this offseason: “Part of this offseason for me is certainly about still preparing for what’s ahead in my next journey, my next mountain to climb with this group of teammates,” the reigning league MVP said. “But it’s also that a lot of people are getting the short end of the stick in my life – certainly my wife and my kids.”
“I need to invest in them, too,” Brady continued. “My kids are 10, 8 and 5. They’re not getting younger, so I need to take time so I can be available to them, too. [...] I’ve really spent the last two or three months doing those things, and I think I’m really trying to fill my tank up so that when I do go back, I can go back and I think I’ll actually be, in my mind, a better player, a better teammate, because I’ll be really rejuvenated.”
This approach is different when compared to the past as Brady has regularly participated in voluntary offseason workouts over the years. However, somewhere along the way something has obviously changed – whether it is because of family, Belichick, his contract status, or a combination of all three. The matter of fact is that the best quarterback in all of football is absent and it can very well be seen as another shot fired in an ongoing conflict.
Here's the thing, though: None of it will matter much if Brady steps onto the practice fields with his teammates on June 5. The Patriots will open their mandatory minicamp that day and the veteran quarterback is expected to be among the participants. All the drama leading up to the minicamp sessions will then at least partially be a thing of the past. Brady will be back under center to lead an offense that will likely also include Gronkowski.
And anything but Brady looking his sharp usual self at that point would be a surprise. After all, he knows both how to run New England's offense at its highest efficiency and how to prepare himself for the season. “Football is year-round for me,” the soon-to-be 41-year old said in late April. At least in 2018, this approach does not include voluntary workouts – but unless proven otherwise Brady should still get the benefit of the doubt for the path he has decided to take this year.
Yes, him being absent might send some wrong signals and ultimately even be a form of passive aggression directed towards Belichick. It might set a bad example for his younger teammates and result in less intense workouts over the course of the offseason. But when it matters, does anybody really believe that the quarterback will not be available? That he will hold out (skipping voluntary workouts is not that)? That he will not bring his A-game?
Or that his absence caught the Patriots by surprise? Belichick, after all, pointed out during his pre-draft press conference in mid-April that he maintains a line of communication to players that are not present at workouts for one reason or another. It would therefore be both a surprise and beyond that a stark deviation from the norm if Brady did not notify the Patriots of his plans to skip the first phases of voluntary offseason workouts.
This does not mean that there are no potential issues that need to be resolved as it relates to Brady, Belichick and Kraft. In the end, however, none of the three men will allow any issues to torpedo the Patriots' 2018 season. It has been that way ever since the early 2000s – and it will likely continue to be that way this year no matter if Brady participates in organized team activities or not.