Tomase: Bill Belichick built the Patriots dynasty, and choosing Tom Brady over him will end it

John Tomase
January 05, 2018 - 3:55 pm

Bill Belichick shared his thoughts on NFL rule changes. (Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports)

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The Patriots built their dynasty on the backs of three men: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Robert Kraft.

They'll extend it on only one of them. And he doesn't sound very happy.

Trying to decide how to divvy up credit for the last 17 years represents little more than an exercise in killing time. Who cares? All three men played pivotal roles in five Super Bowls.

Kraft erased the stench of Zeke Mowatt, Victor Kiam, and a move to St. Louis. Brady played the most important position in the league better than anyone, ever. If you're admiring the trophy case, TB12 must top the list by default.

But the Patriots have never tried to wring every last ounce of glory out of today with no regard for tomorrow. And that brings us to the most pivotal figure in their future.

At some point, Brady will retire. It could be a year from now or five years from now. (I'd bet the under). At some point in that window, Kraft could hand operation of the franchise to his son, Jonathan.

Belichick, however, should be the constant. After all, he had pulled off the impossible. In unheralded second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo, he drafted and developed Brady's heir apparent, the player who could carry this dynasty into an unprecedented third decade.

And then Jimmy G. was gone.

The ESPN story that dropped on Friday like a neutron bomb isn't actually that surprising. We've been hearing about friction between Foxboro's Big Three for much of the season. Seth Wickersham's piece just took the swirling rumors -- Alex Guerrero, the Garoppolo trade, the future of the coaches -- and codified them. He gave shape and form to the whispers, and only the most hopelessly devoted Wall Defenders could dismiss the reporting as fake news.

The Patriots released a predictable "nothing to see here" statement that generically called into question "multiple media reports" that have made "unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated, or flat-out inaccurate" claims without disputing a single detail of ESPN's report.

The primary takeaway appears unassailable -- Belichick didn't want to trade Garoppolo and is therefore unhappy. We can play semantic games over whether Kraft explicitly stated Jimmy G. had to go, or whether the Pats ever presented agent Don Yee with a typewritten extension offer, but they're simply obfuscations.

What's clear is that Belichick wanted one thing, and Kraft something else. I have my theories on why Kraft sided with Brady -- perhaps as an over-correction to abandoning him during Deflategate -- but whatever the reason, the result is the closest we've been to disarray since Kraft declined to let Bill Parcells buy the groceries 20 years ago.

We all know how that story ended, and if you're seeking the most surefire way to chisel the end date on this dynasty's tombstone, losing Belichick would be it. Brady, for all his greatness, represents the past and this last gasp of the present. Anyone who thinks he'll still be winning Super Bowls in 2020 is living a fantasy. He's 40 years old. Garoppolo was here to replace him.

It doesn't appear the owners would let that happen. The Krafts' greatest strength has been staying out of Belichick's way, and that's no insult. Belichick's a master at commanding and shaping an organization, winning in pressure situations, and devising Xs-and-Os strategy. There's no coach alive (or maybe even dead) with his combination of attributes. There are also plenty of owners who would've resented his fame in ways the Krafts seemingly have not.

Whoever follows him won't be his equal. How can he be? The Patriots will be drawing from the same flawed pool of candidates as everyone else. Their re-entry should be about as smooth as a spent satellite plummeting to the Indian Ocean.

It's unclear if the Garoppolo trade will hasten Belichick's departure, although it's hard to imagine he finds a future without a quarterback as appealing as one with Jimmy G. entering his prime. The ESPN story intimates that Belichick could leave as soon as next month, although that seems hard to fathom.

More likely is that his run ends with Brady's. That won't change the historic nature of what they accomplished together. Someday they'll both enter the Hall of Fame, with Kraft right there beside them.

But it also won't change this: That it's over. And the Patriots will be left to wonder why they alienated the one guy who could've kept it going.

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