The much-talked-about ESPN Patriots report is out, detailing a reported power struggle between the Patriots’ three key figures. The story wonders if this season could be the “beginning of the end” for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft.
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham says his investigative report included comment from over a dozen unnamed sources within the Patriots and the NFL. They describe “serious disagreements” between the trio of Belichick, Kraft, and Brady over multiple issues. Most ominously, interviewees described a “palpable sense” that 2017 will be the last year all three are together on the team.
Wickersham sets the stage for several supposed controversies sprinkled throughout the piece by circling back to Brady’s sideline spat with Josh McDaniels in Week 13 against the Bills. Brady reportedly yelled “[Expletive] you!” at McDaniels with the offensive coordinator’s father in the stands behind the bench. But the story describes the incident as a culmination of a few big problems percolating behind the scenes.
ESPN Patriots Report: The Details
Wickersham’s story goes into deeper detail on the Patriots’ issues with Brady’s trainer, Alex Guerrero, as well as the build-up to the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. But the Patriots, in their only on-the-record statement, cited “several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur.”
The story also describes a game of chicken between Belichick, Brady, and Kraft, and a struggle over “who will be the last man standing.” It’s because of these internal issues that the story contends the team is threatening to come apart “the only way possible: from within.”
Three main topics encompass the story: Guerrero, Belichick and Brady’s relationship, and the team’s long-term future at quarterback. Here are the most striking details of each…
ESPN Patriots Report: Alex Guerrero
— One Pats staffer reportedly said the TB12 Method is “like a cult” with Brady and Guerrero
— A Patriots coach described a “hypersensitivity” among players over who would take Julian Edelman’s place after the trusted receiver tore his ACL. Some felt compelled to train with Guerrero in order to earn Brady’s trust.
— Players ultimately felt pressure to train with Guerrero at TB12 over Patriots team doctors. Belichick reportedly met with Brady to discuss the pressure other players were feeling, but Brady and Guerrero didn’t sense such pressure.
— Belichick emailed Guerrero in 2017 to tell him he could train with players but was no longer allowed on the sidelines. Players then felt a sense that Guerrero tried to turn them against Belichick.
ESPN Patriots Report: Brady vs. Belichick
— Brady has long been fine with Belichick’s film-room criticism, but is “less fine” with it in 2017. This reportedly turned after the Patriots’ AFC Divisional win over the Texans, in which Brady did not play well (18-for-38, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 68.6 passer rating).
— The story contends that some within the team are seeing slippage in the 40-year-old QB and that his “nervousness” in the pocket has unnecessarily gotten players injured. Chris Hogan’s shoulder injury, suffered on an errant throw against the Chargers, is cited as an example.
— Brady reportedly feels that Belichick’s “negativity and cynicism have gotten old” and grated on his generally positive attitude. He apparently noted to others that no matter what he accomplished, Belichick didn’t give him “Patriot of the Week” once all season.
ESPN Patriots Report: Garoppolo vs. Brady
— After suffering a shoulder injury in 2016, Garoppolo set up a visit to train at the TB12 center. When he arrived, the door was locked. Trainers didn’t answer his calls. And because of that, he eventually had to work with Patriots trainers instead.
— Guerrero denied refusing to train with any one player. He also said that Garppolo eventually trained at TB12.
— Brady reportedly met with both Kraft and Belichick (separately) in October about his future. A source told Wickersham that a meeting between Brady and Belichick ended in “a little blowup” and did not resolve their issues.
— The Patriots offered Garoppolo four-year extensions in the $17-18 million range annually, but he and his agent Don Yee rejected those offers.
— Kraft and Belichick met about the quarterback in a “half-day” meeting that pushed back other meetings and reportedly caused tension throughout Gillette Stadium. The meeting ended with a “clear mandate” for Belichick to trade Garoppolo, find another QB in the draft, and develop another successor while committing to Brady.
— Belichick was “furious and demoralized,” according to his friends. Patriots staffers said they were “stunned and confused” by the trade, which netted only a second-round pick. Brady, meanwhile, “felt liberated” by the trade after it took place.
— Kraft reportedly told people inside the organization that the trade may have been a mistake. A source told 98.5’s Rich Shertenlieb, however, that the claim is “[expletive] bull-[expletive].”
ESPN Patriots Report: Final Takeaways
First of all, many will characterize this story as a fabrication or “fake news.” It’s not that. Wickersham is among the most reputable writers in the business. His sources aren’t just made up. It’s not a shock that there have been issues within the Patriots; this has been discussed for weeks on 98.5 The Sports Hub and written about by other reputable local writers, like NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran.
That being said, it’s hard not to read Wickersham’s piece without getting a sense of semi-fictionalized sensationalism. There’s likely plenty of shreds of truth in here, but they’re mostly amplified and woven together into a convenient narrative. I’d liken it to the writing of Ben Mezrich, who has written several books about true stories that otherwise contained “composite characters” and exaggerated the more controversial aspects for dramatic effect.
The issue that many will have with this story, and understandably so, is that the closest things to “bombshells” are based on feelings and not facts. Patriots players and staffers feel this could be the beginning of the end. Interviewees feel a “lingering sadness” around the team amid an “imminent exodus” of coaches.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that no tension exists within the organization. It happens. Especially with figures as accomplished as Brady, Belichick, and Kraft. But the Wickersham piece takes it to another level in suggesting that the team is about to fall apart. He may end up being right after the season, but the Patriots’ demise has been predicted since at least the 2009 season. So once it happens, it’ll be hard to be impressed by the one who finally “predicted” it.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with the piece is the peppering of mini-controversies designed to make the tension seem worse than it is. Brady swore at McDaniels in front of his dad! Belichick didn’t give Brady Patriot of the Week! Garoppolo got locked out of TB12! Brady and Kraft had the audacity to hug each other! Belichick became good friends with Roger Goodell! (That last one is just a troll-job of Patriots fans, by the way.)
If you reacted to those particular bits with anything other than an eye-roll, then you just might be grasping at any opportunity to predict the end of the line for the Patriots. It’s hard to deny that there are internal issues at Gillette Stadium, but they may end up having the opposite effect of what fans of the other 31 teams (and, apparently, ESPN) really want. Like many other past controversies, it may only make the Patriots stronger.
The end could very well happen after 2017, but it could also come after the team wins a sixth Super Bowl. And that’s why this story may ultimately not matter much.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff.