Is the air about to come out of the New England Patriots' dynasty?
One of the most dominant trinities in NFL history appears poised to come unglued, after an ESPN expose Friday revealed the relationships between Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft are on the brink of dissolving.
The three men, who have worked together for 16 years and bulldozed the rest of the NFL, are reportedly feuding on the sidelines and inside the practice facility. During their unprecedented run, the Belichick-Brady-Kraft troika have led the Patriots to five Super Bowl wins (and two losses).
"For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship," a statement from Kraft, Belichick and Brady said Friday. "In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate...It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united."
The ESPN story was reportedly based on interviews with more than a dozen Patriots staffers, players, sources and executives who painted a portrait of the 2017-2018 season as perhaps a last hurrah for the team's leadership.
Much of the consternation appeared to be focused on Brady’s relationship with his “trainer, body coach and business partner” Alex Guerrero. Brady reportedly trusted Guerrero with helping him keep his body in tip-top shape despite being 40 -- an age most consider to be too old to be a quarterback in the NFL. Brady, however, has managed to stay on the field again this season, mixing in enough dazzling highlights to supersede his slowly eroding skills and possibly even line him up for an MVP award.
But, despite Belichick reportedly preferring Brady -- and the other players -- see team doctors, some teammates have often sought out Guerrero’s TB12 clinic to seek advice for injuries, and perhaps endear themselves to the future Hall of Famer who ultimately decides whether to throw them the ball. Belichick also reportedly confronted Brady about Guerrero, but, due to a lack of resolution, the coach eventually told Guerrero he was not allowed on the team’s sidelines or in its headquarters because the trainer was not an employee of the Patriots.
The expose also focused on Belichick’s legacy and his plans to cement it. The coach reportedly did not want to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, 26, who stepped up in 2016 while Brady was suspended for “Deflategate,” the scandal in which Brady was accused of ordering the deflating of footballs during an AFC Championship Game.
Belichick reportedly planned on Garoppolo being Brady’s successor, and, due to Brady's age, assumed that plan would be enacted sooner rather than later. However, Kraft reportedly ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo to appease Brady and then select a better quarterback during the upcoming NFL draft. Belichick honored his owner's wishes and traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round pick -- a pittance, especially considering Garoppolo led the team to a 5-0 record since the trade.
ESPN reported staffers were “stunned” by the trade, but Brady seemed in a better mood following the news.
“Brady was once again the team's present and future,” ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote. “His new backup, Brian Hoyer, was a longtime friend and not a threat. The owner was in Brady's corner. ‘He won,’ a Patriots staffer says.”
For his part, Belichick seems to be preparing for life after the dynasty, preparing his assistants for job interviews, cozying up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and taking "pride” in Garoppolo’s performance with the 49ers.
Some staffers told ESPN it felt as if Belichick coached his last game on Sunday -- a win against the New York Jets. Yet, despite the drama, or in spite of it, the Patriots went 13-3 this season, earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC and are poised for a possible sixth Super Bowl win.
But who's poised to be the last man standing?