Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did his best to put an end to speculation surrounding a bitter divorce between him and Bill Belichick.
In the same week that the world got a look into Tom Brady’s continuing motivation as he enters his 21st season in the NFL and his first outside the New England Patriots organization, fans were also treated to a lengthy glimpse into Brady’s relationship with his former head coach and GM, Bill Belichick.
Brady wrote a lengthy and fascinating op-ed piece in The Players’ Tribune that was published Monday. In it, he detailed his entire football journey up to this point, reflecting on everything from the nuances of the game he loves to his relationships with his family members and beyond.
The omission of Bill Belichick — whom Brady lumped into the phrase “teammates and coaches, past and present” — raised a few eyebrows around the league, with many wondering whether it was an intentional written shot at Belichick. After all, just a few lines early, Brady thanked Robert Kraft and “the entire Kraft family” by name.
On Wednesday, Brady helped clear the air a bit on that point, however. As a guest on Sirius XM’s “The Howard Stern Show,” Brady was asked a number of questions.
Though he wasn’t asked specifically about whether or not he meant to leave Belichick’s name out from his essay, he was asked point-blank about whether his relationship with Belichick deteriorated to the point of no return.
Per ESPN’s Mike Reiss, who had coverage of the Stern interview, Brady flatly denied any such notion. Asked whether he resented Belichick for refusing to grant him a multi-year contract extension that would have allowed him to theoretically retire with the only team he’s ever known, Brady was adamant:
"“No, absolutely not. No, because this is a part for me, in my life, to experience something very different. There are ways for me to grow and evolve in a different way that I haven’t had the opportunity to do — that aren’t right or wrong, but just right for me … I never cared about legacy. I could give a s— about that. I never once, when I was in high school, said, ‘Man, I can’t wait for what my football legacy looks like.’ That’s just not me. That’s just not my personality.”"
It’s a very different tone from Brady in the interview than the one we got from his essay.
In The Players’ Tribune piece, Brady was insightful while still maintaining an elegance and almost wistful approach at times regarding his tenure as a Patriot. Conversely, he spoke freely and bluntly with Stern over the radio about his relationship with Belichick and his decision to leave New England and join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFL free agency last month.
Brady’s overarching message about his big, much-publicized choice? “It was just time” to move on.
"“I don’t know what to say other than that. I accomplished everything I could in two decades with an incredible organization, an incredible group of people, and that will never change. No one can ever take that away from me, no one can ever take those experiences or Super Bowl championships away from us.”"
While Brady admitted he didn’t make up his mind entirely until he met with Kraft the night of March 16 to inform the Patriots owner that he intended to leave, he did tell Stern that he entered the 2019 season with the mindset that “it was my last year.”
Indeed, many noticed that Brady seemed to have a different air about him at times during the 2019 football season.
Even when the Patriots were 8-0, those close to him suggested Brady was frustrated that the New England defense was carrying the offense so significantly. He often appeared frustrated with his receivers and the lack of weapons around him. He also spoke like a man who’d just played his final game for his old team during his press conference immediately after the Patriots were upset in the Wild Card round by the Tennessee Titans back in January.
Pressed further on whether his frustrations last season were a direct result of Belichick, Brady took the high road — as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing him do over the past 20 years.
"“(Belichick) and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, nor should they be, that so many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me. Now, I’m not going to respond to every rumor or assumption that’s made, other than what his responsibility as coach is to get the best player for the team — not only in the short term but in the long term as well.”"
That last bit is extremely interesting.
It seems to prove once and for all that Brady understands why Belichick was so loathe to give him the multi-year contract he sought both this offseason and last offseason, as well.
Brady also seems to acknowledge that while he and Belichick perhaps both know that he’s still the best option for the Patriots’ quarterback position in the short-term, he can at least appreciate that Belichick isn’t convinced that he’s the long-term answer — even if Brady himself still believes he is.
"“I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes had experienced, so I got to the point where I was an older athlete and he’s starting to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is. I don’t fault him for that. That’s what he should be doing. Not that I would ever coach, but if I was ever in a position of authority, I would understand that too.”"
Make no mistake — Brady is still hell-bent on proving to the Patriots, to Belichick, and to every other hater and doubter out there in the world that he’s got so much more to prove. After all, his final line in the essay he wrote reads, “I want to show everybody what I got.”
But Brady can appreciate Belichick’s perspective on the matter. He knows that at 42 — soon to be 43 — he’s already so far gone in the “uncharted territory” he references that perhaps not even Brady himself knows what the future holds or how much longer he’ll be able to play at a high level in the NFL.
The single most interesting nugget of all from this radio interview came when Brady was asked about the whole “is it Brady or Belichick?” debate regarding who’s most responsible for New England’s dynasty.
When Stern asked Brady to respond to allegations that he’s just a system quarterback who never would have had his level of success without Belichick as his coach, the G.O.A.T. leaned straight into the question and gave an aggressively honest answer — something he never would have done were he still on the Patriots’ payroll and under Belichick’s culture thumb.
"“I think it’s a pretty s—ty argument actually that people would say that, because again, I can’t do his job, and he can’t do mine. So the fact you could say, ‘Would I be successful without him, the same level of success?’ I don’t believe I would have been. But I feel the same, vice versa, as well. To have him allow me to be the best I can be, I’m grateful for that. I very much believe that he feels the same way about me, because we’ve expressed that to each other.”"
Brady’s right, as usual.
Neither he nor Belichick would have had the same level of success without the other. It was an incredible partnership while it lasted, and we as fans should be grateful that it lasted as long as it did — even if the end came sooner and with less fanfare than any of us could ever have expected.