The Media Column: Tom Brady's pending contract battle with Patriots setting up to be most contentious story in Boston sports history

Alex Reimer
August 08, 2019 - 11:28 am
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This city’s sports allegiances are about to be tested like never before, and given our rich history, that statement is not to be taken lightly. The so-called Boston Sports Mount Rushmore –– which makes at least one annual appearance on our airwaves during the holiday season –– usually includes some variation of the following six figures: Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, David Ortiz and Tom Brady. The first three names on that list played their entire legendary careers in Boston, Orr limped out his final two years in Chicago, and the fifth, Ortiz, built his Hall of Fame resume within the confines of Fenway Park and left on his own terms with the most grandiose farewell tour this side of Derek Jeter. 

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That’s not to say it was always perfect here for those all-time greats. Russell was the target of disgusting racial animus, such as when his walls were smeared with feces, and Williams infamously once spat on fans and gave them the finger. The former also abruptly retired after claiming his 11th championship at the conclusion of the 1969 campaign. Russell did not carry on a relationship with the Celtics for decades afterwards, even failing to attend his own jersey retirement ceremony. 

But at no point in Russell’s career, nor the careers of anybody else on the proverbial Mt. Rushmore, were fans and media types forced to pick sides between them and the team. That could happen with Brady in just seven short months. TB12’s pending free agency just might be the biggest, and most contentious, story in Boston sports history.

It’s unlikely Brady or the Patriots –– who in this case are Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick –– will ever say anything inflammatory about each other. But they don’t need to. In today’s hyperactive media climate, a curtly worded “no-comment” is often enough to start an entire melodrama. Just ask Dennis Eckersley. 

Brady has probably lived through more ridiculous faux scandals than any athlete –– with the possible exception of LeBron James –– so he’s seemingly well aware of this phenomenon as well. Earlier this week, Brady brushed off a question about whether he’s relieved after signing his new contract, and he might as well have cursed out Belichick’s Hoodie. “It is what it is. That is a good line. Whoever said it, it is very pertinent," Brady told reporters. "Like I said, there are a lot of guys in the last year of their contract. That is the situation. I have one year to go and we’ll see what happens.”

As NBC Sports’ Tom Curran explained on his latest “Quick Slants” podcast, Brady and Belichick are probably “eyeing each other wearily as they go along with a smile.” Expect there to be some well-placed leaks from both sides, which we experienced at the height of the last round of Patriots Palace Intrigue. At the onset of 2018, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham came out with a bombshell story that quoted Patriots staffers who commented on Brady’s supposed “increased fragility” and enablement of Alex Guerrero, who was reportedly trying to undermine Belichick’s training staff.

Brady countered with a deep rumination about lost conviction on the penultimate episode of “Tom vs. Time” documentary, which also included wife Gisele Bundchen talking about how her husband just wants to “feel appreciated at work.” Then we read reports about how Brady was unsure whether he would return for the following season, with Curran even writing the QB was leading a “pushback” against Belichick’s austerity.

Later in the spring, Brady wryly pleaded the fifth when buddy Jim Gray asked him at some fancy conference in California whether feels appreciated by Belichick.

This time around, Curran has once again emerged as Brady’s chief whisperer, saying on OMF he is “not happy” with how these latest rounds of negotiations played out. Since the Patriots refused to guarantee Brady any years beyond 2019, Curran says the six-time Super Bowl champion demanded the team surrender its ability to franchise him. 

That’s exactly what happened, setting the scene for a potential stalemate. With an even worse supporting cast than last season –– no Gronk, no left tackle, even fewer wideouts with legitimate professional experience –– it’s possible Brady’s production will dip for the second straight season. Then the Patriots could ask him to take less than the $23 million they’re paying him this year, or as Curran suggests, Belichick could even explore trading the man most responsible for his legacy.

If that scenario comes to fruition, we will face the ultimate “sentimentality versus business” conundrum. Patriots fans and pundits almost universally side with the team in these contractual stand-offs, but this is Tom Brady we’re talking about. He is the one person who the public seems apt to support over the callous “Patriot Way,” as evidenced by the backlash against Kraft for capitulating to the league during the Deflategate saga. Brady was reportedly “devastated” over the perceived betrayal. 

Kraft, above all else, is a businessman. As he said at the time, he only likes to “get into battles he can win.” 

Facing off against Brady in free agency would be the ultimate conflict. Kraft has just a few months to decide whether he can win this one, too. 

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Nugget in Belichick biography may explain hardball strategy with Brady: One of the more curious aspects about the Patriots allowing Brady to enter his walk year is their current lack of suitable replacements behind him. Brian Hoyer is a backup journeyman and Jarrett Stidham, though he’s reportedly impressed in camp, is a fourth-round pick entering his rookie season. 

But maybe Belichick thinks his brain is more important than Brady. In Ian O’Connor’s Belichick biography, an unnamed former Patriots assistant –– *cough* Chris Simms *cough* –– says Belichick believes he can win with pretty much any warm body under center. “(If) you gave us any of the top 15 (quarterbacks in the NFL), we could do it,” the coach said. “(Kraft) thinks Tom is the greatest gift ever, but the coaches don’t.”

Though it’s a small sample size, Belichick might be onto something. He’s 14-6 with Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. 

Red Sox writers turn against team during unfathomable rain delay: One of the more amusing aspects of watching this Red Sox season wash down the drain –– literally on Wednesday –– are the passive aggressive tweets from bored beat writers. The Red Sox called a rain delay Wednesday at 10:45 p.m. (following their 21st blown save) and didn’t postpone the affair until 12:38 a.m. Here are some gems from the evening:

John Tomase (NBC Sports Boston): “There might only be three fans left in the stands –– a family from Pennsylvania that drove up at 5 this morning. They’re waiting out the rain under a roof outside the press box, because what’s the point in going out in this?”

Rob Bradford (WEEI): “Nothing like a rain delay at 10:47 p.m. Delicious!”

Chris Cotillo (MassLive): 

God Bless Eck: It took Eduardo Rodriguez a staggering 76 pitches to make it through three innings Wednesday. He threw 30 pitches to make it through the first frame, where he loaded the bases and went 3-2 on someone named “Nick Lopez.” Dennis Eckersley, who’s quip –– “yuck!” –– about one of E-Rod’s bad minor league rehab starts triggered an airplane ambush from David Price, didn’t hold back on tweaking the lefty for his sluggish pace.

“I don’t need to check my hat to know what to throw here,” Eckersley said.

Given the recent resurrection of his one-way feud with David Price, it would be fair easier for Eck to keep his quips to himself. Good on him for not shying away. 

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