Bill Belichick has a record of 214-74 with the New England Patriots. Hue Jackson has a record of 1-31 with the Cleveland Browns. In order for Belichick’s Patriots to reach the same winning percentage as Jackson’s Browns, Belichick would have to go 0-16 for 410 seasons. Success doesn’t come without sacrifice, tension, and hard work, nor without the spotlight. One of the hottest topics this playoffs season is tension between the Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, head coach, Bill Belichick, and quarterback, Tom Brady, as reported by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham.
Wickersham details a power struggle between three prominent leaders of the Patriots organization. Much of the reported tension stems from the role of Alex Guerrero. Guerrero is not an employee of the Patriots, but rather the business partner, trainer, and fitness coach of Brady. By using Guerrero’s methods, ranging from stretching routines to diet, Brady hopes he will be able to play pain-free well into his 40s. However, some Patriots staffers have acknowledged that Brady seemed physically limited at times this season, passing up challenging throws in some cases. An analysis by Chris Wesseling of “Around the NFL,” Brady’s deep balls were significantly worse in the last 5 games of the 2017 season than the first 11, perhaps as a result of Achilles and shoulder injuries. It’s hard to say if Brady is conclusively declining, though, as his statistics are excellent this year, and mostly above his career averages (TD/INT Ratio, Yards/Attempt, Yards/Game, QB Rating). However, he has the 3rd-highest sack percentage of his career, possibly due to decreased mobility. Regardless, it’s not obvious that he’s declining physically yet, which may have interfered with the Patriots’ plans for the future.
Looking to the future
In 2014, the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round, hoping he would be the future franchise quarterback. The same year, Belichick reportedly banned Guerrero from meetings where players’ medical records were discussed – meetings which Guerrero had previously been able to attend. Belichick made it crystal clear that Guerrero was not an employee of the Patriots. Per Wickersham’s report, it seems that there was tension between Belichick and Guerrero, which could certainly have made Brady feel as though he had to choose sides. Brady, whose contract allows the Patriots to get out before the 2018 season and save $22 Million in salary cap space in the process, was at risk of souring his relationship with Belichick, and his presumed replacement was now in town. Two Super Bowl wins in three years can ease the tension for a while, but in 2017, with Brady’s contract structure and Jimmy Garoppolo waiting for his chance, tensions may have escalated.
The Patriots reportedly offered Garoppolo (whose contract ended after the 2017 season) a 4-year extension including a salary in the $17 to $18 Million range, with an increase if he became Brady’s successor. Garoppolo, who has the same agent (Don Yee) as Tom Brady, turned down the offers for reasons unknown. Yee would surely be seeking a secure future for both of his players, making it hard for them to coexist on the same team, particularly at their cost. Belichick was ordered by Kraft to trade Garoppolo mid-season, presumably signaling the franchise’s faith in Brady being the starter for several more years. Belichick did so – against his wishes – reaching a deal to trade Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2nd-round draft pick in 2018. Kraft has since admitted that the trade may have been a mistake, and Belichick seems none too happy about having to groom a new quarterback from the upcoming 2018 draft class. Brady, however, seems perfectly content and denies any unusual tension, though he has everything he wants, including his friend Brian Hoyer as a backup. Best of all, Hoyer, unlike Garoppolo, is no threat to unseat Brady as the starter.
It certainly seems like there is tension among the three leaders of the organization, but what does it all mean? What is the impact on the future of the franchise?
Accepting that Garoppolo is gone already, the power struggle will not likely alter the trajectory of the franchise. Brady is nearing the end of his career, and Belichick seems to be preparing for his own departure, too. Breaking from previous habits, Belichick is helping his assistants prepare for head coaching interviews elsewhere (Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels was a top candidate last year and was reportedly not helped). At the time of this article, Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia is rumored to be the next head coach of the Detroit Lions, and McDaniels is again in consideration for other head coaching jobs. With both coordinators potentially moving to head coaching roles elsewhere, Brady over 40 years old, and Belichick nearing retirement, the core of the Patriots Dynasty seems to be splitting. Most, if not all, of these transitions, were likely coming anyway, so the direct impact of this tension seems negligible.
The biggest impact of the power struggle will likely prove to be the trade of Garoppolo, who looks like the 49ers’ franchise quarterback through 5 starts (300+ Yards/Game, 96.2 Rating, 8.7 Yards/Attempt). More importantly, when Garoppolo started his first game, the 49ers were a 1-10 team, but he led them to 5 straight wins including defeating the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles Rams –all 2017 playoff teams. Since quarterback is a notoriously hard position to draft, with a success rate under 50% at best, the Patriots look to be worse off than if they had kept Garoppolo. The Patriots lack a long-term answer at quarterback, as they have only Brady and Hoyer on the roster. While outsiders may never know the true extent of the power struggle in New England, it seems safe to say that the resulting trade of Garoppolo was unwise. Trading a likely franchise quarterback may be the final nail in the coffin of the dynasty that seems to be weakening.
Player statistics and team records courtesy of Pro Football Reference.