Things are going well for the New England Patriots as they kick off 2018, with the team securing a No. 1 seed, Tom Brady likely to capture an MVP award in his age 40 season and another shot at the Super Bowl on the horizon. But, according to a lengthy story from ESPN's Seth Wickersham that dropped on Friday morning, things are not going as well internally and the relationship between Brady and Bill Belichick has reportedly created some issues within the organization.
Specifically, Brady's trainer Alex Guerrero and the presence/trade of Jimmy Garoppolo appear to have been catalysts for the issues, as the Pats hurtle into their second decade of success under Belichick and with Brady at the helm.
The Patriots told ESPN that there are "several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur" inside the article.
According to Wickersham's account, the trio of Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft "have had serious disagreements" in recent months:
They differ on Brady's trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero; over the team's long-term plans at quarterback; over Belichick's bracing coaching style; and most of all, over who will be the last man standing. Those interviewed describe a palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.
This notion, of the party ending, actually isn't new. Tom Curran of CSN New England wrote about it a week or so ago, pointing out there is an "end of the party" air to the 2017 season, with Brady and Belichick both on the back nine of their careers and coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia potentially bolting out the door.
But Wickersham's piece has a number of different details. Let's break down some of them.
The issues withwhen Guerrero was banned from the sidelines by Bill Belichick. Wickersham spoke to a friend of Brady's who said that "Tom changed" and "That's where a lot of these problems started." A Patriots staffer described the TB12 situation as "like a cult."
Additionally, Wickersham reports there was an "unspoken pressure" for players, especially young ones, to engage in TB12 training in order to develop a relationship with Brady.
There were reportedly discussions between Brady and Belichick about this that remain unresolved, with Belichick explaining that and essentially wondering why other players "felt pressured to train at TB12 rather than with the team." Belichick removing Guerrero from the sidelines and the building in the middle of the season only created more tension.
This was also exacerbated when Julian Edelman suffered an injury this preseason: a Patriots coach told Wickersham there was a "hypersensitivity" about who would take that role.
2014 is pointed to as a year where things changed: Guerrero and Brady began to push the TB12 agenda, the Pats went on a Super Bowl run that many saw as the end of an era and the Pats drafted Jimmy G.
The backup quarterback
There are all kinds of issues relating to Garoppolo's status inside the Wickersham article. Wickersham, appearing on "SportsCenter" on Friday morning, made it clear that, despite what might have been mentioned on social media or how the article might have been interpreted, Kraft did not force a Garoppolo trade on Belichick.
Belichick, as he has publicly stated, did not want to trade Garoppolo. But there were limited other options: according to Wickersham, Garoppolo and his agent Don Yee rejected multiple offers in the range of $17 to $18 million per year with escalators "that would go higher if and when he succeeded Brady."
According to Wickersham, two weeks before the trade deadline this year, Kraft and Belichick met for an awkwardly long amount of time, and the "meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick," to "trade Garoppolo" and then "find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him."
Wickersham reports that Belichick was "furious and demoralized." Brady, according to the report, "seemed liberated."
Airing of the grievances
According to the ESPN story, Brady/Belichick/Kraft were supposed to meet in December and "clear the air," but it hasn't happened yet. It has left the Pats in a weird place, even as they sit No. 1 in the AFC with the playoffs about to begin. Belichick is reportedly "grinding harder than ever" while Brady "seems to be searching this year" -- everyone involved is approaching 2017 with the madness that's consumed them for their careers, apparently in the hope that securing a sixth Lombardi Trophy will fix any issues that have festered over the past months and years.
It is absolutely worth mentioning here that in the past 15 years or so, there have been any number of "this is the end of the Patriots dynasty" stories written, with questions emerging about the long-term viability of the Pats plan. Each and every time, the Patriots respond by winning. Even the longest drought of the Pats run was met with a Super Bowl in recent years and even the biggest deficit of the Pats run was met with a comeback and Super Bowl, just last year.
Betting against the Patriots has not been a profitable enterprise. But all good things must come to an end. If you believe the details of Wickersham's story, it's possible we're getting close to the end for the Patriots run, for reasons that extend beyond football.