What we learned from ESPN’s report on the Patriots’ changing dynamic

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick hoist Super Bowl trophies during the Patriots' victory parade in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.

What sinks the Patriots’ dynasty could be tension from within the organization, according to a new report by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham.

Wickersham’s story, “For Kraft, Brady and Belichick, is this the beginning of the end?” revealed more details surrounding the growing unrest among the franchise’s long-lasting, championship-driven trio: owner Robert Kraft, quarterback Tom Brady, and head coach Bill Belichick.

Per Wickersham, the trio disagrees on a number of issues, including “Brady’s trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero; the team’s long-term plans at quarterback; Belichick’s bracing coaching style; and most of all, who will be the last man standing.”

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Here’s what we learned about the reported rift among the Patriots:

Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo.

In a surprising personnel move at the end of October, the Patriots traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round draft pick. Following the move, Belichick told reporters that retaining both Brady and Garoppolo was “just not sustainable.”

“It’s definitely not something we wanted to walk away from,” he said at the time. “I felt we rode it out as long as we could.”

Belichick didn’t want to trade Garoppolo, but as Wickersham explains, negotiations were difficult. Brady and Garoppolo share the same agent, Don Yee, which meant the Patriots couldn’t offer the 26-year-old any guarantees about playing time without Brady finding out. Belichick and Kraft met frequently throughout the fall to discuss the quarterback situation.

But things came to head two weeks before the Nov. 1 trade deadline. After an extended meeting between the two, Belichick left with a firm instruction: “Trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him.”

Belichick’s friends told Wickersham that Kraft’s demand left him “furious and demoralized,” while Brady felt “liberated.”

Brady has become less receptive to Belichick’s coaching style.

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Over the course of his 18-year tenure with the Patriots, Belichick has instilled pillars of the “Patriot Way” within his players through his emotionless, albeit effective, tendencies. As much as he promotes selflessness and accountability, Belichick has made it clear that nobody’s job is safe — not even Brady’s.

He would often react to Brady’s missed passes by saying, “The quarterback at Foxborough High could make that throw,” during Monday morning film sessions. While Brady used to expect those jabs — and be OK with them — he’s become less receptive. The breaking point reportedly came after the team’s win over Houston in the divisional playoff round last season.

Although the Patriots defeated the Texans, 34-16, Belichick took issue with Brady’s performance: 18-for-38, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. While replaying one of his Brady’s interceptions in front of the team, he said, “This will get us beat,” adding that they were “lucky” to come away with the victory.

Brady has reportedly told other players and Patriots staffers that Belichick’s “negativity and cynicism have gotten old.” With all that he has accomplished in his career, Brady believes he should no longer be subject to such grief.

Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week a league-high three times, but has yet to earn “Patriot of the Week” honors from Belichick — something he has noted to staff members a few times.

Alex Guerrero continues to be a divisive figure within the organization.

Wickersham’s story corroborates the Boston Globe’s earlier report that Belichick had restricted trainer Alex Guerrero’s team access because his treatment of multiple players had created conflict with the team’s official medical staff.

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According to Wickersham, the Kraft-Brady-Belichick rift began surfacing following the release of The TB12 Method in September. “That’s where a lot of these problems started,” said a friend of Brady, who claims that “Tom changed.”

While Belichick preferred that players visit Patriots doctors, players believed visiting Guerrero could be an opportunity to earn Brady’s trust. Wickersham reports that multiple players consulted with coaches and staff members about whom they should seek treatment from. It was Brady versus the team.

The veteran quarterback appears to have ascended to a management-like position on the Patriots, with new players often addressing him as “sir.”

Wickersham’s story also highlighted a few telling anecdotes:

  • Brady would tell teammates, “Bill’s answer to everything is to lift more weights,” which is advice that conflicts with the TB12 method’s emphasis on pliability and resistance training.
  • Although Belichick still permits players to visit the TB12 Sports Therapy Center for Guerrero’s treatment, many players told coaches and staff members that they were under the impression that Belichick had completely banned them from working with Guerrero.
  • After Garoppolo injured his shoulder in his second start with the Patriots last season, he set up an appointment with Guerrero at the TB12 center. But when he arrived for his scheduled session, nobody was there and the door was locked. He called TB12 trainers, but nobody picked up. Garoppolo instead ended up working with a team trainer that night.

There’s a ‘lingering sadness’ around the team.

Brady, Belichick, and Kraft were supposed to meet in late December to “clear the air,” but the conversation never happened. Wickersham believes the conversation likely won’t take place until after the season.

According to those interviewed, many fear that this year may be the trio’s finale. With offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as hot commodities on the coaching market, things are expected to be different next season — regardless of what happens with Kraft, Brady, and Belichick.

In the meantime, the trio is still poised to make a run at their record sixth Super Bowl championship in spite of the underlying changes in dynamic.

“Bill’s done a phenomenal job of holding the building together,” a Patriots official told Wickersham.

While managing his evolving relationships with Kraft and Brady, Belichick has also become “good friends” with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Wickersham. Following the conclusion of the regular season, the two reportedly had a lengthy meeting when Goodell visited Foxborough.

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