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Tony Massarotti

Fair Warning: Tom Brady Could Become Another Logan Mankins

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Tom Brady’s day of reckoning is coming, and the only question is whether it will be sooner or later. The end comes for all of us. And in the world of professional sports, especially, things rarely end well.

This is a sensitive subject, of course, because we all know who Brady is and what he has meant to both the Patriots and the entire six-state region they represent. There has never been a quarterback like him here, maybe anywhere, and there may never be again. At least not for a while. Brady has been a franchise player in every sense of the word, on the field and off, part Joe Namath and part Joe Montana. There’s Brady and his wife on the cover of a fashion magazine. There’s Brady hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Welcome to the world of the consummate GQB.

Jimmy Garoppolo? This is not about him so much as it is about what he represents: the future. Playing all 60 minutes of the Patriots’ preseason finale against the New York Giants last night, Garoppolo went 22-for-42 for 284 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He made some good throws and some bad ones, some smart decisions and some poor. Overall, he continued to show more promise at the position than any Patriots backup since, well, Brady himself, which hardly means he is the next Brady. It just means he has a chance.

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Overall, in his first NFL preseason, Garoppolo completed 58.2 percent of his passes (46 of 79) for 618 yards with five touchdowns and one pick. His rating, if you believe in such things, was a warm 99.0. The numbers mean nothing in the end. But the feeling does.

In the wake of Logan Mankins’ unexpected departure from the Patriots this week, let us all be reminded of how the Patriots operate, of what they believe: there are no sacred cows. In one way shape or form, the Patriots have cut bait with most everyone, often in unceremonious fashion. They traded Mankins and Deion Branch, did the same with Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour. They cut loose Adam Vinatieri and Wes Welker. Those players all ended up somewhere else, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

In the case of Brady, who opens his 15th season in New England on Sept. 7 at Miami, the next year could be among the most interesting of his career. Starting next season, Brady’s base salary drops to $7 million as part of a contractual restructuring he agreed to prior to the 2013 offseason. The spin was the same as it always has been, that Brady “gets it,” that he was agreeing to take less so that the Patriots could spend more on what has often been a flawed supporting cast.

Since that time, revenues in the NFL have continued to increase. The salary cap and quarterback pay is climbing. While Patriots owner Robert Kraft has insisted that the Patriots don’t do “fake deals,” Brady’s camp has politely suggested that the quarterback’s upcoming salaries (from 2015-2017) are merely “placeholders.” Those sound like two very different interpretations of what Brady’s contract actually means, something everyone in Foxboro knows and is patiently waiting to play out.

Oh, and then there is this: the Patriots drafted a quarterback in the second round this year, the highest Belichick has ever drafted a quarterback in New England and the earliest the Patriots have selected a quarterback since taking Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 overall pick. Roughly 10 years later, Bledsoe was traded. Brady was handed the keys. He was a better quarterback and a far, far better value and the combination of those two things made things relatively clean, simple, easy.

Just the other day, Patriots color analyst, former quarterback and talk-show cohost Scott Zolak said on 98.5 The Sports Hub that he doesn’t think Brady will play for his existing base salary next season. Zolak did not suggest whether Brady might hold out or whether the Patriots might agree to another restructuring. But as we all know with the Patriots, money is the root of all conflict, as it was with Mankins and Welker, Vinatieri and Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Asante Samuel, among others. If you’re not worth the money, you’re simply not worth it.

When the Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the spring, Belichick said the club was better off being early than late when addressing the most important position on his team. He also referred to Brady’s contract “situation.” All of this came after a season in which Brady’s completion percentage and passer rating dropped for a third straight year. Maybe that is more a reflection on the Patriots overall passing game than the quarterback himself. Maybe it is a reflection on Brady. Whatever Belichick thinks, he isn’t about to let anybody know, which leaves us little choice but to judge him on his actions.

And this year, with the arrival of early pick Garoppolo, the Patriots have started to leverage their quarterback.

Does that mean Brady absolutely will be gone in a year? Of course not. Brady is aligned to have a great year. Garoppolo could still be a bust. As always, in Foxboro as much as anywhere, there are lots of moving pieces. But anyone who views Brady as untouchable simply has not paid attention to the way the Patriots do business, does not want to acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that life without him may be approaching sooner than we think.

After all, this much we know:

Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and the Patriots never get caught with their head stuck in the sand.