When the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers it was thought that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would ride off into the sunset together in two, three, maybe five years from now.
And that’s still the safe bet.
But the rumblings of a rift between Brady and Belichick have grown louder since the time of the Garoppolo trade. It’s still entirely unclear of how big of a problem the two parties have when it comes to the practices of Brady’s personal conditioning coach and business partner, Alex Guerrero, but make no mistake - tension does exist.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter told WEEI’s Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan last Friday that he’s heard rumors of a rift within the Patriots organization regarding Guerrero, and on Monday Brady tip-toed around the subject when pressed during an interview with WEEI.
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“I don’t have any comment [on the rumor], other than to say Alex has been a huge part of what I do and I’m so fortunate to have him not only as a friend, but with everything we’ve been able to do together,” Brady told WEEI. “It takes a lot of people for an NFL player to achieve. Your career and teammates and coaches and family and support and friends … Alex has been a huge, huge reason why I’m still playing.”
Guerrero did not make the trip to Pittsburgh this past weekend for the Pats’ win over the Steelers. He had been making road trips with Brady for the past several years.
“I don’t have any comment on that,” Brady said.
It’s easy to imagine that Brady believes there is a double-standard in New England, as Linda Holliday, the girlfriend of Belichick, has often been seen on the sidelines before and after road games this season – whereas Brady can’t even get the guy who actually helps his on-field production into the building.
It is still not known who made the ultimate call on trading Garoppolo to San Francisco, in favor of keeping the now 40-year-old Brady for the foreseeable future. Belichick was curiously loquacious in his press conference announcing the trade of Garoppolo, glowing and heaping praise upon the young signal-caller.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jimmy,” Belichick said at the time. “I couldn’t ask for him to give us any more than he has given us. The 49ers are getting a good player, they are getting a good person and they’re getting a great teammate and they are getting a good quarterback and Jimmy is getting a good coach.
“His career is moving forward, he’s a talented individual. He is a great person to coach. I met with him weekly. As his career moves forward, we have to look at our team, this year and beyond. We probably had, in my mind, the best quarterback situation in the league for the last 2.5 years. It is just not sustainable the way things are set up. Not something we wanted to walk away from. I felt we rode it out as long as we could, over a period of time, explored every option possible to sustain it. At this point, felt like we had to make a decision. Very complex situation on multiple levels. This is really the last window that we had, we did what we felt was best for the team. There were many things involved in this whole process.”
The Patriots clearly have a succession plan in place for when Belichick and Brady are going to leave, but if Belichick starts to think Brady is getting too much power within the organization – he has always seemed to be one to hold a grudge. If push comes to shove, could Belichick be the one to leave instead of Brady?
What does the future hold?
Belichick said in his “A Football Life” documentary that he did not envision “coaching into his 70s like [former Buffalo Bills coach] Marv Levy.” Brady has said that he now wants to try and play until he’s at least 45. Belichick will turn 66 in April and an ESPN piece at the time of the Garoppolo trade said that friends of Belichick said that he only wanted to coach 2-3 more years.
Josh McDaniels seems like the logical candidate to succeed Belichick as coach of the Pats, but he is currently the top candidate to become head coach of the New York Giants.
According to Albert Breer of the MMQB.com, Belichick will likely be involved in the hiring process in New York.
“Belichick’s long had a close relationship with Giants owner John Mara, who’d surely seek his advice,” Beer wrote earliers this month. “And ex-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi has been retained as a consultant for the search, and Accorsi’s searches have, in the past, turned up Belichick proteges Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta) and Bob Quinn (Detroit) as hires.”
One would think that Belichick would give McDaniels his blessing to jump to the Giants, given Belichick’s admiration for the franchise and his desire to place McDaniels in a good spot.
Belichick has always walked to the beat of his own drum. When he resigned from the Jets job, penning his resignation letter on a napkin, members of the Jets organization and the New York media went so far as to question his mental state.
Anyone who has followed Belichick’s career knows that he won’t retire with some grand celebration, and that it will happen abruptly. It’s most likely that he steps to a podium after the end of one of these seasons and says, “See ya later. I’m outta here,” doesn’t take questions, and vanishes from the face of the football Earth. It could happen at the end of this season. It could happen at the end of the 2025 season. No one knows the timetable except the highest most members of the Patriots' hierarchy.
Or something even more whacky could transpire. If Belichick truly is involved in some sort of power struggle with Brady/Guerrero, and Robert Kraft were to ultimately side with the player and his buddy – Belichick would surely not be afraid to pack up his bags and leave.
If things were to get ugly in a hurry, perhaps Belichick would jump to the Giants himself? He could close out his coaching career in the place where he got his first big break, with a franchise he reveres, and could jump up into the front office in 2-3 years. This move for Belichick was rumored in the mid-2000s when Tom Coughlin was treading water, and it was mentioned a bit two years ago before the Giants eventually hired Ben McAdoo.
Of course this is all wild speculation, and again – the good money is that Belichick is part of the operation in New England in some capacity for the rest of his life.
This is Kraft giving Belichick the game ball after he passed Tom Landry on the all-time coaching list last month. No rift to be seen here, at all.