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O’Sullivan: Every dynasty must end – even in New England – but disagreement is part of working relationship

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady keeps limber on the sideline in the cold weather during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline while bundled against the cold weather during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) sits on the bench during the end of the second half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Patriots defense couldn't have been worse in their first four games. During a dominating win streak over its next eight it was the NFL's stingiest, despite losing captain Dont'a Hightower to a season-ending injury. But after getting roughed up in its loss to Miami on Monday, a rapidly-depleting unit will have to turn the page quickly before its pivotal matchup with Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) Lynne Sladky—AP

  • Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (right) speaks with quarterback Tom Brady during a timeout at Gillette Stadium last month. AP

  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (center) speaks to quarterback Tom Brady (left) during a game earlier this season. AP

  • New England quarterback Tom Brady (center) holds up a Super Bowl trophy along with head coach Bill Belichick (right) and team owner Robert Kraft (left) during a rally in Boston to celebrate Super Bowl 51. AP


Sunday, January 07, 2018

There was no prejudgment here. When ESPN’s Seth Wickersham published a story detailing a rift between Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft that signaled the end of the New England Patriots dynasty, I approached it with open eyes.

Yes, it feels like ESPN has taken a lot of shots at our Pats. But does it seem possible that the ruthless, bullying Belichick could have fractured the franchise? Sure, it’s possible. He’s the greatest coach of all time, but Belichick still carries a cantankerous edge.

As for Brady, I still wouldn’t want any other quarterback. But off the field, he’s playing near the deep end. Is it possible his relationship with controversial trainer Alex Guerrero could lead to a bad end to his time in New England? Sure, it’s possible.

But after reading the Wickersham story, my opened eyes rolled into the back of my head. It feels forced. It feels like Wickersham was given a task by the ESPN debate club – “Please argue that recent events signal the end for the Brady-Belichick Patriots” – and then did his best to win the argument.

Undoubtedly there’s some truth in the story, but there seems to be much more speculation and questionable deduction. Add in the fact that NONE of his sources are named, and the whole thing feels like ESPN fishing for clicks with America’s most intriguing team as bait.

The headline alone speaks to a blend of truth and sensationalism – “For Kraft, Brady and Belichick, is this the beginning of the end?” Well, of course we’re near the end of this dynasty. Brady is 40. Belichick is 65. Even if they stay together for another five years, this season could be seen as the beginning of the end for the dynasty.

The opening paragraphs then recount the sideline argument between Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Dec. 3 as if it proved the point of Brady’s anger. As if it was the spark that could break up the band. Please.

If you’ve spent any time on any football sideline, you know that loud, expletive-filled arguments are common. It’s an aggressive sport that attracts aggressive men and they confront each other in aggressive ways. Brady and former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien had a similar sideline shouting match back in 2011, and six years later the team has two more Super Bowls and a 13-3 record as the AFC’s top seed. The screaming between Brady and McDaniels is not a sign of the end.

Wickersham later writes that, “according to interviews with more than a dozen New England staffers, executives, players and league sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings, the three most powerful people in the franchise – Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft – have had serious disagreements.”

Again, of course they have serious disagreements. That’s what happens conducting business. If any of those three – Kraft, Belichick, Brady – were simply yes men, or unwilling to speak their mind or defend their ideals, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are. There would probably be no dynasty to end.

The Patriots seem to be addressing this very point in the first sentence of the statement they released concerning the article, “For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship.” The key word there is “working.” Working relationships, at least the productive ones, come with some disagreements.

It’s also telling that Wickersham spoke to “more than a dozen” people connected with the team yet names none of them. I have no problem keeping sources confidential, but more than a dozen? Naming one or two would have considerably raised the credibility level of this story.

That comes up again when he’s writing about how Guerrero and the TB12 method, “began to creep into Brady’s life ... ‘Tom changed,’ says a friend of Brady’s. ‘That’s where a lot of these problems started.’ ” So there it is, the place where the problem started, perhaps the crux of the whole thing, and yet the only proof offered to confirm that importance is, “a friend.”

No, officer, that doesn’t belong to me. I’m just holding it for a friend.

There seems little doubt that Brady’s relationship with Guerrero has caused some tension and disagreements in Foxborough. Just like there’s little doubt that the Jimmy Garoppolo situation also caused some disagreements. It was a complicated situation – what exactly are you supposed to do with a very good backup when the starter is still playing at MVP level? It’s likely that Belichick, Brady and Kraft all had different answers to that question.

So have there been issues around Guerrero and Garoppolo? Sure, but Wickersham exaggerates both in order to enhance his argument.

The supposition is that Brady felt threatened by Garoppolo, so he wanted him gone and was thrilled when Belichick traded Garoppolo to San Francisco in October. Wickersham writes that, “Brady is famously unhelpful toward his backups – or, at least, a threat like Garoppolo.” Yet in the same paragraph he writes that Joe Montana didn’t help Steve Young, Brett Favre didn’t help Aaron Rodgers and Drew Bledsoe didn’t help Brady. So is Brady “famously unhelpful” or just normally unhelpful like any quarterback, or person, who doesn’t want to lose their job?

Near the end of the piece, Wickersham gets to the part Patriot fans dread, the part Patriot haters dream about – Brady or Belichick leaving. “Something has to change, that much everyone knows,” Wickersham writes. But how does he back up this assertion? With more vague suppositions and unnamed sources.

“Many Patriot players and staff … (have) noticed that (Brady) seems to be searching this year, as if reaching the pinnacle of his profession is as fleeting as it is rewarding … Belichick seems to be grinding harder than ever … Before the Patriots played the Steelers in December, he told players, ‘I brought you here for games like this.’ ”

That’s a lot of “seems.” And what does it even mean that Brady, “seems to be searching this year?” And of course Belichick emphasized the importance of the Pittsburgh game. It determined home-field advantage for the playoffs and was widely regarded as one of the biggest games of the year in the entire league.

Once again, Wickersham’s proof falls flat.

The end of the dynasty is within sight, Belichick is a grump, Brady is a little loony and there have surely been some disagreements among the Patriots this season. But it’s hard to believe things are as bad in Foxborough as Wickersham and his unnamed sources make them out to be.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)