Tom Brady bet on himself. So did Bill Belichick.
In my hometown of Boston, it was a St. Patrick's Day to forget. No parade. No bars. No more Tom Brady.
The first two were thanks to precautions taken against the spread of coronavirus. The last was a blow to one of the few remaining distractions for homebound football fans practicing social distancing and waiting out the virus.
The quarterback who over 20 years led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl titles and not a single losing regular season announced he would not return. The man who appeared in 13 AFC Championships was leaving the conference entirely, signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just a few short years ago, the Patriots' retention of Brady over Jimmy Garoppolo made it seem as if No. 12 might finish out his career only playing for one NFL team. Now his playing days will continue but his time in a Patriots uniform is over.
What makes the loss of the hoped for storybook ending all the more difficult for fans to take is that Brady and the Patriots still looked like each other's best option for winning another Super Bowl. The market for Brady's talents as he approaches age 43 wasn't particularly robust. Barring a blockbuster trade that seems unlikely due to a tight salary cap situation (made worse by Brady leaving), the list of quarterbacks available to the Patriots looks mediocre.
Yet the prospects of Brady reuniting with legendary Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for one more season seemed remote. Brady looked disgusted throughout the past year with the lack of money Belichick put into the offense compared to the defense. Belichick and the Patriots repeatedly declined to give Brady any guarantees they would let him play until he was 45, the quarterback's personal goal. They never felt close to a deal no matter how much sense it arguably made.
Entering middle age, Brady finally seemed to chafe at Belichick's hardnosed coaching style. Belichick remained unsentimental, despite a stray reference to Brady's "iconic" status, and perhaps eager to show he can win a ring with a different quarterback.
Now both men will get their chance. Brady must try to compete in a division that also features New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan, and Teddy Bridgewater newly installed with the Carolina Panthers. This is after years of critics saying Brady benefited from playing in a weak division. Belichick too will begin his quest for another title with a quarterback far less "iconic" — and yet to be determined.
In the end, Brady bet on himself once again to defy the odds, holding off Father Time for one more year and hopefully silencing the last talk radio detractors who malign him as a "system quarterback." Belichick stayed true to his philosophy too, sticking to a team-friendly contract offer secure in the conviction it is better to let a player depart a year too early than a year too late.
Belichick will get more bites at the apple, since he could conceivably coach for 10 more years while Brady probably has one to three left as a player. But the end of this winning partnership is a risk for both men — and not the news quarantined Bostonians were eager to hear as they quaffed their green beers from home this year. Though I bet a few will secretly buy TB 12 jerseys that say both "Tom Brady" and "Tampa Bay."
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