There is something apropos about Tom Brady leaving the Patriots during a time in which the world has basically stopped. The image of Brady playing football next season in a different uniform is as surreal as the sights of empty restaurants and gathering areas.
But that’s what will happen next season. On Tuesday morning, Brady announced on social media he was leaving the Patriots and signing elsewhere. While NFL free agency doesn’t officially begin until Wednesday, Brady’s new destination could be known by then.
Brady and Bill Belichick spent 20 years together building an NFL dynasty. Now it could all unravel in less than 12 hours.
It’s a reminder that professional sports are about business, and few sports figures are as tied to us as we are to them.
In corresponding statements, owner Robert Kraft and Belichick each praised Brady, with the latter calling Brady a “special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.” Given Belichick’s notorious lack of sentimentality, it is likely this statement will be the last time he talks about Brady, until the GOAT’s Hall of Fame induction. (Last year, Belichick said little about Rob Gronkowski in his first media appearance since Gronk’s sudden retirement.)
Kraft is insisting he wanted to keep Brady all along, but the quarterback didn’t share the same warm feelings. “My first choice was to keep him,” Kraft told the New York Times. “If he wanted to be with us, we could have worked something out.”
That line of thinking, of course, ignores the fact Kraft owns the team. If he wanted to keep Brady, he could have tried harder. According to reports, Belichick took the lead on the negotiations, and only had one unproductive phone call with Brady prior to free agency. While Kraft may talk about “loving Brady like a son,” he ultimately treated him like a declining asset. You don’t accumulate $6.9 billion by adhering to warm and fuzzy feelings.
Brady’s exit is a stark dose of reality for a region and fan base that loves him like a demigod. For two generations of New Englanders, including yours truly, it is impossible to imagine anybody else playing quarterback for the Patriots on a permanent basis. Adults in their late 20s don’t know football fandom without Super Bowl runs, and the same goes for high school students. Brady won six Super Bowls with the Patriots and turned them into one of the world’s greatest sports franchises. For the last two decades, Brady has owned Boston.
On a national level, our Outsports readers reacted with a mixture of shock and anger.
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As I pursued a career in sports media, my Patriots fandom faded. And unfortunately, a regrettable on-air remark I had made briefly took center stage during one of Brady’s nine Super Bowl trips. But he reacted to the situation with class, just as he always did. There was something about Brady’s gridiron excellence that commanded loyalty. I even found myself passionately defending Brady during the Deflategate circus, angrily lecturing my out-of-town friends about PSI levels and the Ideal Gas Law.
But Kraft, it’s important to note, didn’t seemingly carry the same undying loyalty as the fans who vociferously protested Brady’s Deflategate suspension. Kraft ultimately decided to not fight the NFL’s punishment, reportedly prompting Brady to explode in anger.
Brady, for his part, appeared to view his relationship with the Patriots as a business transaction as well. His unhappiness with Belichick was well-documented over the last couple of years, climaxing in a bombshell ESPN investigative piece outlining the friction within the franchise.
A Bay Area native with properties all over the country, Brady isn’t personally tied to Boston. In hindsight, it’s telling he and wife Gisele Bundchen put their Boston-area estate up for sale way back in August. It’s almost as if they were preparing for this moment.
When it no longer made sense for Brady to stay with the Patriots, he left. He can probably get paid more money elsewhere and play with a better supporting cast. This was a calculated decision for him, too.
Brady gave us six Super Bowl rings and a lifetime full of memories. We were there and got to see the GOAT at his best. In return, we gave him unwavering devotion. But the realties of business will force an end to that loyalty. Next season, somebody else will be under center for the Patriots.
It seems impossible to imagine, even if it makes all of the sense in the world.