Who’s more to blame: Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick look on during warm ups before the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick look on during warm ups before the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

With March 18th approaching, many are speculating about Tom Brady and his relationship with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

With less than 10 days until Tom Brady is officially a free agent, there appears to have been little progress made between the New England Patriots and Brady.

This raises the question: How can a quarterback who has had legendary success with an organization for 20 years be so difficult to re-sign … what’s the problem?

To start, we of course need our Tom Brady update of exactly what’s happened.

In Summary: Absolutely nothing.

In Depth: The narrative changes every day. Let’s break this down:

  • At first, pundits speculated he would go to the LA Chargers, the Miami Dolphins, or perhaps the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Then, he was projected to go to Tennessee to rejoin his old friend Mike Vrabel.
  • As of a few days ago, rumors came out proposing Tom Brady going home to the Bay Area to become a 49er and have Jimmy Garoppolo traded back to New England.
  • On March 4th, Karen Guregian of the Boston Harold reported that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had a phone call that “didn’t go well.” Who knows what that means exactly.
  • Now, Charlie Weiss — Tom Brady’s old offensive coordinator from the first three Super Bowls — is chiming in, as reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss:

"“I do have one bit of scoop for us. I’ve been texting with Tommy. I don’t [usually] pass along these conversations, but one thing he told me — ‘Nobody knows anything. So anyone who is telling you they know, they don’t know.’ I’m not going through any other part of the conversation [but] I followed up and he said, ‘Clean it up.’ So I’m cleaning it up.”"

  • So, nothing has happened with Tom Brady.

Fans in New England are surely curious as to why their quarterback of two decades and the Patriots can’t seem to get any momentum going in the right direction. Since there is no progress being made, this has to be someone’s fault, right?

Let’s assign blame to either Brady or Belichick.

Tom Brady had a very frustrating 2019 season. He had his earliest exit in the playoffs since 2009. In the Titans game, there were times that Brady looked notably frustrated, at times even smiling at how laughable the Patriots’ offense had become.

This is very unusual from the quarterback who stays calm, cool, and collected, even in the highest pressure of situations. The issue for the Patriots’ offense lies in personnel.

Over the course of the last decade, the Patriots have had success in empty formations, especially in “22” personnel (2 running backs, 2 tight ends, 1 wide receiver) and “12” personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends, 1 wide receiver).

In the Patriots’ win over the Rams in Super Bowl 53, their lone touchdown drive was executed mainly using “22” personnel in an empty formation. They had James Develin and Rex Burkhead as the backs, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen as the tight ends, and Julian Edelman was the wide receiver lining up in the slot.

This is a staple of the Patriots playbook. Two inside receivers (in this case, Gronkowski and Allen) run seam routes, the outside receivers (Develin and Burkhead) run hitches, and Edelman has a three-way option to cut in, break out, or sit down.

The problem with the Patriots this year was the lack of personnel that could legitimately draw attention to the defense on the seam routes. For the better part of a decade, it was Gronkowski (when he went down from time to time), and it was Hogan, Bennett, or Cooks who would fill in.

This past year, the Patriots had no tight end weapon, and no trustworthy wide receiver besides Julian Edelman, making this play a lot easier to defend.

Tom Brady’s frustration is justified and perhaps is an answer for why his numbers dipped in 2019. Brady could be holding off on rejoining the Patriots until he can be assured that the Patriots find answers for who they could plug in as a receiving threat.

If I’m Tom Brady, I wouldn’t want to labor through another season of “throw to Julian Edelman and hope everything will be fine.” Many speculate that Brady wants an extraordinary amount of money, or a contract that will take him till age 50, but in truth, he wants to play for a team that has the personnel he has grown accustomed to.

So that means its Belichick’s fault, right?

Let’s not be so hasty on the blame just yet. Belichick is the head coach of the Patriots, but also the GM. The Patriots had major issues with offensive personnel this season, but Belichick did try to fix the problem. He did try with Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown.

Remember when Brown caught his lone touchdown with New England? It came from an empty formation with James White and Gordon running a hitch (Gordon’s five yards deeper than White’s), Edelman running an option route, and Phillip Dorsett and Brown running seams. Brown faded near the end and allowed Brady to throw him a ball on the back shoulder for a touchdown.

Gordon was eventually released off the injured reserve, and Brown was … you know the rest. So you can’t say Belichick didn’t try.

The coach’s issue on why he can’t see eye-to-eye with Brady is that Belichick is a bargain shopper. If he doesn’t think Brady is of value for two years, he won’t give him two years. If he thinks Brady is worth no more than $20 million a year, he would never pay Brady $20 million and one cent. He believes the Patriots are a machine, and if Brady isn’t there for the right value, he can just plug in a different part.

My guess is that the blame can be put on both parties.

Brady is enjoying his first free agency ever and won’t be quick to re-sign with the Patriots, so don’t expect any news for Brady on March 18th. Belichick is treating Brady as any other player — he’s not afraid to let Brady go, in other words. Belichick even released his team captain, Lawyer Milloy, at the start of the 2003 campaign to make room for Rodney Harrison.

Next. New England Patriots' incumbent free agent destinations. dark

I wouldn’t be surprised if Robert Kraft has to step in to bridge the gap between Brady and Belichick. Kraft views Brady as another son and would hate to see Brady go elsewhere. As for now, let’s just keep speculating on Brady until he actually makes a decision.