Tom Brady: How 20 years with the New England Patriots came to an end
"The Patriots had their opportunity over the course of time to make it clear to Tom Brady that they wanted him to stay and they didn't move off of their spot at all to begin negotiations."
By Cameron Hogwood with NBC's Tom Curran
Last Updated: 20/03/20 2:38pm
Bill Belichick and gushy displays of emotion have never quite gone together.
It took the departure of undisputed greatness and a fellow gargantuan of his industry to breach that icy exterior, the end of 20 years alongside Tom Brady warranting a heartfelt tribute in honour of the quarterback's history-making legacy.
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Brady was labelled one of the 'original creators' of a dynasty that parades six Super Bowl titles, 13 AFC East division crowns and 17 playoff appearances over two decades, across which the infamous sixth-round draft pick has pieced together two Hall of Fame-worthy careers into one.
The irony being the likelihood of Brady staying with the New England Patriots had similar expressions of adoration arrived more regularly.
"'If Bill would have said some of those things more often, Tom would probably still be a Patriot'," a source close to Brady told NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Insider Tom Curran on Tuesday.
Brady just wanted some love
In the end, the reality of Brady hitting the open market for the first time in his storied career came down to a lack of feeling wanted by the Patriots.
For all it's been made to appear that the 42-year-old led the decision to part ways, it was as much on the Patriots' apparent failure to budge that played a part in the split.
Armed with two Super Bowl triumphs in three years, Brady entered negotiations last summer in the hope of striking a multi-year extension, one somewhere along the lines of Drew Brees' two-year $51m deal in New Orleans. The Patriots evidently didn't come close to giving him that.
What instead became a pay rise, including a clause meaning Brady could not be tagged, appeared to be played off as an extension by the Patriots. Fast forward to free agency this year and there is every indication of there being no movement from the team on the unsuccessful deal they are believed to have tabled in 2019.
"It's something that I sensed happening," Curran told Sky Sports.
"The Patriots had their opportunity over the course of time to make it clear to Tom Brady that they wanted him to stay and they didn't move off of their spot at all to begin negotiations.
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"As Monday night ended, I said 'it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he doesn't go back to the Patriots with an opportunity for them to match or try and figure out what they wanted to do'.
"I kind of thought it would happen quickly on Wednesday but I was surprised unilaterally without a place to specifically go to that he said 'I'm done'. Which to me said 'I don't want to play for you guys anymore'."
The Jimmy G conundrum
Jimmy Garoppolo sits as a thorn deep at the foundations of Brady's exit, the 2014 second-round draft pick having landed in Foxborough as a long-term successor in the eyes of Belichick.
The previous year had seen Brady and owner Robert Kraft agree a team-friendly three-year, $27m extension which the latter referred to as an 'elegant solution' to ensuring he would see out his career as a Patriot.
Curran continued: "When they drafted Jimmy Garoppolo to serve as his understudy and then over time when Brady beat back that challenge he had hoped that would result in them committing to him so that he could play with this team until he was 45."
Brady signed another team-benefiting two-year, $41m extension in March 2016 and by 2017 was yet to be unseated by Garoppolo, who was later traded to the San Francisco 49ers against the wishes of Belichick.
Familiar hopes of the Patriots tying him down for the rest of his career were knocked back once again.
"It became apparent that after Garoppolo was traded and there was no extension coming in his mind's eye it was pretty clear that they were viewing him as someone who is a short-term answer that needed a long-term solution," added Curran.
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"When that contract expired in 2017, Kraft, understanding that Bill Belichick is really the engine that drives the team, didn't want to overstep and force Brady on Belichick.
"Brady had so often been able to turn to Kraft and say 'okay, can we fix this situation here?' and Kraft had complied, this time it was starting to fall on deaf ears and I think that Brady understood it and why it was happening but it didn't make it any easier for him to swallow.
"Kraft was of a mind that 'if I overstep here, it's going to p*** off Bill and that's going to result in us losing direction as a team in general, Tom is a temporary guy, Bill is one of my managers', that's what it really came down to."
New era in New England
Belichick opening the door for Brady allows you to assume he did so with the belief it was for the good of the team moving forward, whether that be now or years down the line.
Curran said: "(Belichick's decision was) Definitely made in the best interests of the team. The best interests of the team might not mean that 'oh our quarterback play is going to look exactly as it would have if Tom Brady was there', best interests of the team might mean that economic aspect with the salary cap.
"If you want to move forward with the team and develop it for the 2020s, Tom Brady is not going to be a part of that whole thing so for Belichick it's a positive."
Brady leaves behind $13.5m in dead money against the Patriots' salary cap as he gears up for a new challenge with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A dent to the equilibrium was always coming, it had to. Having had a front-row seat to Brady's success, Curran, like every Patriots fan, is now processing the loss of a major part to the city.
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"It was a jarring morning, people are getting their minds around the fact Brady's not here anymore," he said.
"That simple reality of my job in covering this team, it's been two decades of waking up knowing 'okay, the team I'm covering is still one of the best in football and they still have the greatest quarterback in the league', and you wake up now and the subject that you study is not there anymore and it's weird."
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"I think that definitely Brady and Brown were able to forge some kind of relationship, I think Brady had kind of a caretaker relationship with him and he felt for him," claimed Curran.
"After he was released and Brady didn't agree with the decision to release him it seemed as if 'you know what, this is what you get, you release a guy who only has football in his life and look at the downward spiral that he gets involved with'.
"He did visit him when everyone was down in South Florida for the Super Bowl so I wouldn't be surprised if that continues to be something that were to maintain."
The Patriots under Belichick are no strangers to taking the unconventional approach to positional and personnel fixes. So often it's been a case of them making stars, as opposed to bringing them in.
Jacoby Brissett's days look numbered in Indianapolis in light of the one-year $25m deal agreed with Philip Rivers, and the Colts quarterback of course has experience under Belichick having played behind both Brady and Garoppolo during his time in New England.
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Josh Rosen, the No 10 overall pick for the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, is meanwhile the forgotten man this offseason as he faces an uncertain future with the Miami Dolphins.
"Jacoby Brissett makes sense," admitted Curran. "He becomes a little bit obsolete in Indianapolis and I like the idea of Josh Rosen.
"You buy a distressed asset who was taken 10 overall two years ago and you get him into your system and see what you can do with him. I absolutely think that Rosen makes sense in New England and any place."
It would also come as no surprise to Curran were the Patriots to put their faith in 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham.
"Having gotten him in the fourth round it was kind of a good get because he's got a very strong arm, he's very accurate, throws downfield very well and he's clean in terms of off-field," he said.
"He's a good leader, he's got no issues and he has no lingering shoulder, knee, back physical issues.
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"He hasn't played in very sophisticated offenses and he didn't have off the charts production in college. But there's a lot of upside and a lot to like about Jarrett Stidham for the New England Patriots. He's going to have every opportunity I think to do well and to win the job."
While Brady's legacy comes to an end, a new Patriots dawn emerges and much like Brady 20 years ago, a name not as vaunted, maybe the solution is in house once again - although the shadow cast this time is more significant than perhaps any in NFL history.