The Patriots Never Really Wanted Tom Brady Back

Hearts may be breaking across New England today, but all the evidence suggests the Patriots didn't try very hard to bring back TB12.

Photo by Elise Amendola/AP

The Patriots never really wanted to re-sign Tom Brady. The GOAT is gone, and according to reports, New England didn’t chase him. The news isn’t surprising for those who have been following the melodrama between Brady and Bill Belichick over the last couple years. It’s apparent this divorce was inevitable.

Though Brady won’t officially become a free agent until Wednesday, the man who won six Super Bowl championships in Foxboro and helped make the Patriots into one of the world’s premier sports franchises announced his intentions to sign elsewhere Tuesday morning.

“I don’t know what my football future holds, but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and my career,” Brady wrote. “Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for out incredible TEAM experiences.”

In an interview with ESPN, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Brady came over his house Monday evening, and left with the understanding that the two sides were going their separate ways. “We had a positive, respectful discussion,” Kraft said. “It’s not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest. After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son.”

Kraft echoed his thoughts in a statement, with Belichick saying he will always have a “great relationship” with Brady “built on love, admiration, respect, and appreciation.” But that isn’t how these negotiations played out.

While Kraft can say he didn’t want the team’s relationship with Brady to end, as the owner of the team, he possessed the power to step in and ensure TB12 stayed. But Kraft didn’t. He reportedly allowed Belichick to head the negotiations, and as it turns out, there apparently wasn’t much conversation between the two sides. There was one unproductive phone call earlier this month, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran, and then the Patriots waited for Brady to initiate the next steps.

As it turns out, his next steps were farewell social media posts.

It’s not in Belichick’s DNA to pay for past performance, and awarding Brady a hefty new contract entering his 43-year-old season would’ve been exactly that. Brady’s performance declined substantially in 2019, as he posted some of the worst numbers of his career. Some of the blame falls on the lack of weapons around him, but with the market’s best playmakers already switching teams—the Bills reportedly acquired star Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs Monday—it looks like next season’s group will be just as bare.

Unlike earlier in his career, Brady is no longer capable of lifting up lesser talent. His frustration was palpable on the field, culminating in on-field meltdowns and airmailed deep balls. Brady’s final throw in a Patriots uniform was a pick-six to former teammate Logan Ryan.

If the Patriots were determined to keep Brady, it never made sense to allow him to reach free agency. But that’s what happened. In each of the last two years, the Patriots passed up the opportunity to sign Brady to a long-term contract extension. Last summer, they agreed to place a provision in his restructured deal that prohibited them from placing the franchise tag on TB12—all but guaranteeing his freedom.

More than anything, that’s what Brady seemed to crave: freedom. He wanted to break away from Belichick’s austerity, with ESPN’s Seth Wickersham reporting way back in January 2018 that Belichick’s “negativity and cynicism” had gotten old to Brady. “(Brady) feels he has accomplished enough that he shouldn’t have to endure so much grief,” Wickersham wrote.

The previous season, Belichick reportedly banned Brady’s guru and business partner, Alex Guerrero, from the Patriots’ sidelines and locker room—which almost certainly didn’t help their teetering relationship.

Over the last two years, Brady didn’t attend voluntarily offseason workouts, instead opting to vacation in Monaco while his teammates were hard at work in Foxboro. Brady’s status was so uncertain entering 2018, some within the Patriots organization weren’t even sure he was going to return, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That spring, those within Brady’s inner-circle were reportedly saying the quarterback wouldn’t have minded if the team just released him.

For his part, Brady played into the drama, opting to “plead the fifth” when asked about whether he feels appreciated by the Patriots. This offseason, Brady put out a myriad of cryptic social media cues regarding his future, including a Hulu Super Bowl commercial that created more questions than answers.

Despite the reported acrimony, Belichick and Brady were able to make one more Super Bowl run in 2018. But they failed to capture the same magic last season, faltering in the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2009.

The winning was the biggest component of Brady and Belichick’s football bond. Without it, there is nothing left. Brady may have waited until Tuesday to announce his exit, but the groundwork had already been laid.