Is the Patriots’ reign over? Be weary of such claims

The only thing colder than the blizzard roaming New England is the perpetuated notion that the New England Patriots dynasty — the greatest in NFL history — is once again nearing its end.

If that lede seems cliche, it’s because it was meant to mirror the long list of attempts to forecast the end of the Patriots’ reign during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

Early Friday morning ESPN’s Seth Wickersham — a brilliant reporter, to be fair – tweeted out his lengthy feature  summarizing a rift between Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft. ESPN heavily marketed the article, putting it as its centerpiece on their website for much of the day, with it’s attention-grabbing line ‘Is this the beginning of the end?’

How many times is this going to happen? Sure, Brady and Belichick have never been best friends. Their relationship has strictly always been business related. But the Patriots have weathered far worse media storms such as SpyGate and DeflateGate in the past, winning two Super Bowls and four AFC Championships since the validity of their winning was questioned.

The Patriots are the most polarizing team in professional sports, and have been probably for the past decade, but ESPN and various other outlets and writers have made outlandish claims in the past, even before the Patriots were looked at as what the Dallas Cowboys once were.

In 2003, after Belichick abruptly released captain Lawyer Milloy, the team was spanked by Milloy’s new team, the Bills, 31-0 in Buffalo. That sparked ESPN’s Tom Jackson to infamously claim that the Patriots players ‘hated’ Belichick, and that their season would quickly spiral out of control.

The Patriots won 17 of their next 18 games en route to a winning the Super Bowl that season and the next.

Let’s also not forget the Patriots embarrassing 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on a national stage in 2014. This time it was ESPN’s Trent Dilfer predicted the dynasty’s demise.

The Patriots proceeded to win 13 of their next 15 games to ultimately beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

Now granted, there have been valid rifts in the past between Brady and Belichick reported by trusted sources like NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran, who has followed the team closely for almost two decades.

The above tweet enraptures a plausible situation, as Brady and Welker were very close friends. Plus Curran is one of the most reliable writers who covers the Patriots, and even he sent out another tweet closely after encouraging everyone to be weary over the claims.

Admittedly, these claims are different than those of the past. It is true that Belichick banned Brady’s health guru Alex Guerrero — who released his own statement yesterday — and much of the article centered around that and Belichick being ‘forced into a corner’ in regard to trading Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco right before the trade deadline.

The Patriots unwillingness to trade Garoppolo this past offseason when his value was at its peak suggests Belichick did plan on Garoppolo being the successor to Brady.

Belichick’s friend and former co-worker Michael Lombardi helped draft Garoppolo in 2014, a move that surely made Brady aware of his numbered days in New England. Lombardi — who now works for The Ringer — has been on record numerous times stating that the Patriots knew what they had in Garoppolo, a future franchise cornerstone.

But Brady has defied the odds, winning two Super Bowl MVPs since that 2014 decision to draft Garoppolo. Brady probably will also add a third NFL MVP award to his resume this February. He’s 40 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. Father Time will come for Brady, and even though he’s adamant about playing until the age of 45, a recent dip in production during December may suggest that Brady’s decline has begun.

But even that has been prematurely predicted ad nauseam over the years, as Brady continues to be the best player in football.

So with Garoppolo in the midst of his fourth season behind Brady, and itching to start, with Brady continuously playing at a high level, Belichick’s only other options were to let Garoppolo walk in free agency — the Patriots would have received a third-round compensatory pick — or sign Garoppolo to the franchise tag in hopes of trading him or keeping him around for one more season.

If the latter situation played out, the Patriots would have had a salary cap hit somewhere north of $44 million paying both Brady and Garoppolo. That’s just not feasible.

As expected, many of Wickersham’s claims (via his sources) are being refuted. Local beat reporters with a bevy of inside sources are stating that Garoppolo was never offfered a deal of roughly $17 million to stay, or that Brady certainly never encouraged Kraft to demand Belichick to trade Garoppolo.

It’s probably true that Brady saw Garoppolo as the Aaron Rodgers to his Brett Favre or Steve Young to his Joe Montana. Garoppolo’s 5-0 start with the 49ers portrays that he is indeed a franchise quarterback. Belichick knew this and wanted to keep him around. But Belichick knew what he had to do, even if he was reluctant to do so. If reports of Kraft forcing Belichick to trade Garoppolo were true, he would probably quit.

Kraft has often stated that it’s Belichick who runs football operations, not himself, so there’s no way this trade was made over Belichick’s head.

Surely there is some tension surrounding Brady and Belichick. Maybe one day that tension will finally set them apart. This historic run will end at somepoint, but it won’t be this season. Still, there are claims that Belichick could leave for New York to coach the Giants as he encourages his underlings, coordinators Josh McDaniels (the favorite to land the job) and Matt Patricia to interview for the open position.

So Belichick would step on the toes of his apprentices that have been waiting for this moment for years, all while leaving or uprooting his sons, who are now on the Patriots’ staff? The Hoodie would abandon everything he’s built in New England because of an overbearing trainer and the fact that the greatest quarterback of all-time is still playing like the greatest quarterback of all-time at age 40? That’s what doesn’t sound plausible.

Things have changed in New England. Brady, who is so woven into the ‘Patriot Way’ that he’d be used as the very definition of a player who follows it, is no longer a fiery, 24-year-old quarterback in the midst of learning his craft. He’s now a 40-year-old superstar with a a supermodel wife. But the desire to win football games is as prevalent as ever, as is his ‘football’ relationship with Belichick, the only relationship between the two that truly matters.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick - Week 17 2007
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick share an exchange before their 2007 Week 17 matchup with the New York Giants. (Screenshot: NFL Films)

But on the brink of Wild Card weekend we have yet another report of the Patriots’ demise. The dynasty is over due to a disagreement between Brady and Belichick. Mind you, the reported rift is so strong that the Patriots have played themselves out of the Wild Card round and into a bye once more. During the ‘drama-filled’ season, the Patriots have won 11 of their last 12 games en route to their seventh No. 1 seed in franchise history, all of which have been during the Brady-Belichick era.

As you intake the details of this recent piece, refer to earlier “the end is near” takes I listed above. Watch clips of ESPN’s Max Kellerman predict the end of Brady year after year. Watch them all. Just realize what happened after those takes. We’re more likely to see a repeat of that than anything else.

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