The New England Patriots have been the class of the NFL for about 15 years now. Ever since the team won its first Super Bowl back in 2002, the Patriots have served as the league’s model franchise, due in large part to the consistency they’ve received at the quarterback and head coach positions.
Tom Brady has been the team’s rock at QB since taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and has refused to let age—he was 40 when the 2017-18 NFL season kicked off—slow him down, while head coach Bill Belichick has worked tirelessly to instill "The Patriot Way" as the way of doing things within the Patriots organization. And all of this has been overseen by owner Robert Kraft, who has always seemingly played an important role in the team’s success without ever overstepping his bounds and getting too involved in the day-to-day operations Belichick has put into place. It has resulted in five Super Bowl runs in the last 15 years with the Patriots’ most recent title run coming last February.
But could the epic Brady/Belichick/Kraft era be coming to an end?
If you believe the things you read in an explosive ESPN report that was released early Friday morning, yes. In the thorough report, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham lays out all of the ways in which Brady, Belichick, and Kraft have engaged in a tense power struggle over the last few months, and he suggests that it could be a sign that this could be the last NFL season in which all three are a part of the Patriots’ plans moving forward.
One of the first problems Wickersham points out in his piece is a problem that has come to light before. It involves Brady’s personal guru Alex Guerrero, who Brady has credited on numerous occasions with extending the life of his NFL career. Guerrero helped Brady create "The TB12 Method," which is both an approach Brady takes to training for football and a book he released in 2017 about his fitness and diet. Despite the fact that he’s never been directly affiliated with the Patriots, Guerrero was welcomed into their facility back in 2013 by Belichick and allowed to work with Brady and other players. At one point, he was even granted permission to sit in on important meetings concerning players’ health, according to Wickersham.
However, Belichick scaled that back in 2014 after he reportedly found out that Guerrero was blaming Patriots trainers for some of the injuries that players were experiencing. Guerrero continued to maintain a presence in the Patriots facility in subsequent years, but it created a tough situation for Patriots players. According to the ESPN report, some felt pressured to go to Guerrero for treatment for injuries since Brady endorsed him. But others felt pressured to go to the Patriots trainers for treatment since that’s what Belichick asked them to do. It eventually led to Belichick banning Guerrero from the sidelines this season, and it also led to Belichick sending Guerrero an email about how he didn’t want him hanging around the Patriots facility anymore. Belichick didn’t prevent Guerrero from working with Patriots players altogether, but he told him he would have to do it elsewhere if he was going to do it.
One of the other problems Wickersham details in his piece is the uncertainty over the Patriots’ plan at the quarterback position moving forward. Brady has obviously been an elite quarterback in the NFL for almost two decades now and is going to end up in the Hall of Fame one day. But he isn’t getting any younger, which is why Belichick decided to draft Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his mind, Garoppolo would be able to serve as Brady’s successor when it came time for the legendary QB to hang up his cleats.
This didn’t necessarily create resentment between Brady and Belichick, but Belichick’s attempt at gradually transitioning from the Brady era to the Garoppolo era was anything but smooth. According to Wickersham’s report, Brady was never interested in helping groom Garoppolo as the next Patriots quarterback. He didn’t feel the need to try and teach him anything because "nobody had helped him during his climb." And at one point in the report, Wickersham suggests that Guerrero may have refused to treat Garoppolo after he suffered an injury in 2016, which raised some red flags within the Patriots organization. Garoppolo reportedly scheduled treatment with Guerrero after sustaining a shoulder injury, but when he showed up to meet with Guerrero, no one was around and TB12 trainers wouldn’t answer his calls. Guerrero denied refusing to see Garoppolo, but Garoppolo was reportedly miffed over receiving the cold shoulder from Brady’s trainer.
But the biggest problem Wickersham writes about in his piece was still yet to come. It took place back in October after Belichick and Kraft met for several hours to speak about the team’s quarterback situation. According to Wickersham’s report, Belichick told Kraft he had no interest in getting rid of Garoppolo at the NFL trade deadline in early November. Even though Garoppolo was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season, which could have caused the Patriots to lose him for nothing, Belichick reportedly saw the writing on the wall with regards to Brady and knew the Patriots were going to have to put a clear plan in place to move from Brady to Garoppolo. Kraft was reportedly having none of it.
As Wickersham writes, Kraft told Belichick that he had to trade Garoppolo. He asked Belichick to find a trade partner for Garoppolo and move him before drafting another young quarterback next spring and developing him to be Brady’s successor. Belichick reluctantly got in touch with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and offered Garoppolo in exchange for a second-round draft pick. It was a small haul for the Patriots when you consider that other teams had offered more for Garoppolo just a few months earlier. But it helped Belichick get Kraft off his back—and according to Wickersham, it made Brady very happy since it meant he would be able to continue to be the Patriots’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. "He won," a Patriots employee told Wickersham.
All of this has reportedly created tension between Brady, Belichick, and Kraft, and it has led some within the Patriots organization to believe that it might be the beginning of the end for the trio. For what it's worth, the Patriots released a joint statement from the three men on Friday morning downplaying the ESPN report and disputing many of the things reported in it.
But it will be interesting to see how things pan out for the Patriots once the season ends. It could truly be the end of an era for New England if even half of the things in the ESPN story turn out to be true. Go here to read the whole thing for yourself.