Bill Belichick is playing a dangerous game with Tom Brady.
Getting rid of a player a year too early rather than a year too late is a mantra that Bill Belichick has been practicing ever since he came to Foxboro in 2001. Over the years we’ve seen countless examples of decisions that made Patriots fans quiver, such as letting Wes Welker depart for Denver, cutting Lawyer Milloy in the preseason, and even shipping Logan Mankins to the panhandle in the dog days of August.
Now, tasked with one of the biggest decisions he’s ever had to make, Belichick seems to be taking a similar approach to Tom Brady’s free agency.
Am I surprised by this? Yes, but not for the reason most would think.
When Jimmy Garoppolo was dealt to San Francisco on Halloween of 2016, it represented a shift in Belichick’s philosophy. With an aging quarterback and a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings on his last year of his deal, the end of 2016 seemed like the perfect time to move on from Brady and hand the keys to the kingdom to the handsome gunslinger out of Northern Illinois.
Making a move like that would have been ridiculed by the fan base, especially coming off of a 5th Super Bowl title, as well as an MVP level season for Brady, but if Belichick had stayed consistent with his own philosophy of heartless business decisions, he would have moved on from the greatest of all time. Instead he chose to deal the younger and less expensive option, something Belichick never does
The Garoppolo move will always be an enigma. If Belichick was intent on moving him, then why not move him at the draft to maximize his value? Instead, he moved him at the deadline for a laughable price of a second round pick.
The most logical answer is that he was waiting for Brady to fall off during the 2017 season, essentially biding his time to convince Robert Kraft and the rest of the organization that it was time to move on from Brady.
It didn’t happen.
Brady as we all know, had an MVP season at age 39 and led the Patriots to within a strip sack of a second straight Super Bowl. Belichick tucked his tail and dealt Garoppolo for a below market price, and stuck with the veteran.
So how does this all relate to the current Brady situation?
Belichick made a change in his philosophy keeping Brady over Garoppolo. With any other player, at any other position, Belichick would have picked the younger, cheaper option. Edelman over Welker, Butler over Revis, Trent Brown over Nate Solder, the list goes on and on.
If Belichick stayed consistent with his way of thinking when he moved on from Garoppolo, he would have already given Brady his long desired extension and committed the team to him. Now, it seems as if Belichick is reverting back to his original mantra of moving on from the aging veteran in Brady by playing hardball in negotiations.
Only this time, he doesn’t have his ready made replacement waiting in the wings.
Jarrett Stidham has the potential to be that guy, but at this point he is a true unknown. He isn’t the plug and play starter that Garoppolo was destined to be.
That’s not to say that Brady is a complete lost cause. There are plenty of players Belichick has let hit the market, accepting the possibility that they may leave, only to see them come crawling back to take the Patriots below-market level contract. Think Dont’a Hightower, Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Duron Harmon, etc.
At this point, no one truly knows where Brady will end up, or what Belichick will offer him. There have been mixed reports about the true market value of an aging 43 year old, and it could go either way.
One thing is for sure, Belichick will not be overextending himself to please employee number twelve. If Brady is back, it will be on Belichick’s terms.