O’Sullivan: Time was right for Brady and Patriots to part ways

  • Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks to the media following the Jan. 4 playoff game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass., which turned out to be Brady’s last game playing for the Patriots. AP file

  • Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walks off the field following the Jan. 4 playoff game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass., which turned out to be Brady’s last game playing for the Patriots. Bill Sikes

Monitor staff
Published: 3/18/2020 3:04:48 PM

It was time, probably even past time, for Tom Brady and the Patriots to go their separate ways.

That doesn’t mean Brady’s departure will be easy to swallow for New England fans. Yes, the current coronavirus pandemic puts this in stark perspective – the difference between real life problems and sports problems are painfully obvious right now – but knowing Brady won’t be back to quarterback our team is still tough.

Brady and the Patriots transcended the impact most players and teams make on a region, even here in sports-crazed New England. You could see it on fall Sundays as people of all ages, genders and backgrounds proudly wore Patriots hats and jerseys. The team became part of our identity, a symbol for New England along the lines of clam chowder. The Pats were so ubiquitous that even non-sports fans knew when it was big-game season or could have a conversation about the team…most likely centered around Brady.

Not every New Englander owned No. 12 Brady jerseys, but we all knew no player was more important to the team than No. 12. When the NFL implicated Brady in a ball-deflating conspiracy back in 2015, the region rallied around its quarterback, willing to take on the rest of the league and all its fans in defense of our Tom.

This love and loyalty made it hard to accept the signs that had been coming from Foxborough for more than a year. Some had inside information, many more were just guessing, but plenty of media types and their sources had been saying it for a while – Brady is unhappy in New England and the end could be near.

We didn’t want to believe it when Seth Wickersham, or anyone else, wrote or spoke about the trouble in paradise between Brady and Bill Belichick. That’s the greatest quarterback of all time and the greatest coach of all time and they have been kicking everyone’s ass for 20 years, how could there be trouble?

Even if we didn’t want to believe the reports, we should have believed our own eyes and ears last season.

Brady was so desperate for receiving talent in New England that he embraced the walking hot-mess that is Antonio Brown. The quarterback seemed down in post-game press conferences even after wins. His body language on the sidelines during games gave away his frustration and unhappiness.

 

The high-fiving, rah-rah, team-first Brady who we all fell in love with back in 2001 was gone. That Brady was happy to throw check downs to running backs, finish with 150 passing yards and lean on his defense as long as it meant a win. The 2019 Brady apparently was not. For that Brady, it seemed like the joy in New England was gone, and that meant it was time to move on from the Patriots.

The 2019 Brady had rightfully earned the titles of G.O.A.T. and superstar, and it makes sense that the superstar G.O.A.T. wanted the team molded around him, and not the other way around. It looks like he’ll probably get what he wants in Tampa Bay, but he was not going to get it in New England, and that meant it was also time for the Patriots, a.k.a. Belichick, to move on from Brady.

We may never know the truth, but Belichick may have wanted to end the Brady era in New England for years. Moving on from veterans before they start to decline has been Belichick’s method for years, just ask Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, Wes Welker, etc., etc. Belichick was probably ready to trade Brady between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, when Jimmy Garoppolo was still in New England and the heir-apparent to Brady.

Belichick is not nostalgic. He is not one to sacrifice the greater good of the team for an individual, no matter how great, historic or beloved that individual may have been or even still is.

If we’re being honest, Brady’s ability had clearly slipped in the last two years. The poor throws were more prevalent, and the horrible throws that used to belong to only to other quarterbacks in other cities had arrived in New England. He wasn’t quite as nimble in the pocket, his decision making not quite as sharp, his arm not quite as strong.

Brady was still very good, still capable of great moments, still terrifying for opponents when the money was on the table, and that’s amazing consider he is 42. But the slippage had, finally, appeared. And Belichick cuts ties with players who are slipping, he doesn’t sign them to massive contract extensions.

If Brady was unhappy on Belichick’s team, and Belichick was unhappy with Brady as his quarterback, it was time for a divorce. In that comparison, the New England fans are the kids. Divorce is hard on kids, but we’ll be okay.

We have the greatest coach of all time to pick and prepare our next quarterback. We should feel pretty good about that considering the job he did with the last one.

It will be strange seeing Brady in a different uniform for the next year or two, but that strangeness will likely fade before Brady retires. After he retires, it won’t take long to forget about that other uniform and simply remember Brady as a Patriot. There are, after all, so many great things to remember.

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




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