Remember when the New England Patriots were all but finished?
There was “a palpable sense in the building” last season that the 2017 Patriots season would be the final installment of the dynasty, according to a wild report by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that was released a day before last year’s Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs. The 13-3 Patriots were taking advantage of their first-round bye as the No. 1 seed in the AFC but were suddenly in the spotlight for reported internal turmoil more so than for their on-field success.
Though, maybe “suddenly” is too strong a word. After all, there had been plenty of drama surrounding the Patriots after the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, and then after Bill Belichick banned Tom Brady’s personal trainer — Alex Guerrero — from the sidelines and the team plane. Before Wickersham’s report, we all pretty much knew that it might not have been one big happy family in Foxboro.
But Wickersham’s piece gave those organizational disagreements a toxic feel. It attempted to validate the idea that last season would be the end of the Patriots’ “Big Three”: Robert Kraft, Brady, and Belichick.
One month after that ESPN report, the Patriots were playing in their second straight Super Bowl — their third Super Bowl in four years. Fast forward to one year after the report, just days before this year’s NFL playoffs begin, the Patriots are in a similar position. They have a first-round bye and will host a Divisional Round playoff game at Gillette Stadium in mid-January
To that, I wonder, where is Wickersham’s update?
Surely, all those “New England staffers, executives, players and league sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings” that Wickersham said he interviewed for his report, they must have something to say about what’s changed and why last year wasn’t the demise of the Patriots’ dynasty, no?
Okay, so the 2018 Patriots didn’t have a perfect year. They began the season with Julian Edelman serving a four-game PED suspension, dealt with some offensive struggles after losing several key pieces in the offseason, and then lost Josh Gordon to a possible career-ending suspension. They finished 11-5 as the No 2 seed in the AFC, and while that’s not as good a record as many projected, things could be a whole lot worse for this Patriots team that was supposed to be all but finished after last season.
The reality is Wickersham exaggerated the reasonable conflict that he was told about by his sources. I’m not knocking his sources or saying he made stuff up. But it’s clear that his report before last year’s playoffs was more than just a hard-news piece. There was plenty of opinion and assumption built in, so much so that some of those opinions and assumptions were ultimately portrayed as facts.
But more than anything, it was an exaggeration of the facts.
If it was strictly a hard-news piece, then the headline to Wickersham’s story would’ve been, “Garoppolo repeatedly rejected a four-year, $72 million contract extension.” Talk about burying the lead. That was some hard news right there. And it confirmed that both Belichick and Kraft wanted to keep Garoppolo around.
But Wickersham even added his own commentary to that, saying “Garoppolo and [agent Don] Yee rejected the offers out of hand, for reasons that remain unclear.”
I mean, if you have any common sense, those reasons wouldn’t be unclear at all. Garoppolo and Brady have the same agent. Brady was about to be named NFL MVP. And Gaorppolo — who finally wanted to be a starting quarterback — was an impending free agent.
Yet, one year ago, common sense was nonexistent in Wickersham’s report, and a glimpse into the reality of a dynasty trying to manage some very unique situations turned into a click-bait hit piece from the Worldwide Leader.
Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. But what’s even more powerful, is the way the Patriots, since, have gone to another Super Bowl and are now one win away from advancing to their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game.
And I’m just wondering if ESPN has any update on how the heck that could be possible.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” on PodcastOne, iTunes, and Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard. Subscribe to YouTube.com/DannyPicard.