Tom Brady won six Super Bowls and 17 AFC East titles for the New England Patriots during his two-decade career with the franchise. Not bad for a sixth-round draft pick.
So, to be clear, Brady owes New England nothing. Ever.
Not an explanation. Not an apology. Not even a comment, really. Nothing. On the all-time scales of athlete/team, Brady’s side is touching the floor.
That said, you can’t blame former teammates, coaches, fans or anyone with the franchise if they wonder where Brady’s head and heart were during the 2019 season. It was his final with the Pats and a time when he was also engaging in repeated conversations with the Miami Dolphins.
New England won the division again, but the end of the season was a disjointed mess. A loss in the wild-card round to Tennessee was New England’s fourth in six games.
During the second half of the season, Brady’s play slipped — seven of his 10 lowest-graded games by ProFootballFocus came after Week 11. He completed 64.8 percent of his passes in the first nine games of the season, but 55.3 after that.
At the time, Brady’s relative struggles were shrugged off as missing Rob Gronkowski (who had “retired”) and the QB being 42 years old.
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Now, however, following an NFL disciplinary report released Tuesday involving the systematic tampering of the Dolphins, we know that during the 2019 season, Brady was engaged in “numerous and detailed conversations” with Miami executive Bruce Beal.
Brady was in the final year of his contract in New England. He later became a free agent and signed with Tampa Bay, where he is set to begin his third (and likely final) season. NFL rules prohibit teams from contacting players who are under contract with another team.
“The Dolphins had impermissible communications [with Brady] as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and postseason,” the NFL determined.
The league has suspended Beal and team owner Stephen Ross, who had “knowledge” and was supportive of the tampering, as well as stripped the club of two future draft picks.
A federal lawsuit filed by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores includes a scene where Ross entertains a “prominent quarterback” who was not yet a free agent on the billionaire’s yacht. Multiple reports say that the QB was Brady.
“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated in handing down the ruling.
Brady will not be disciplined. The infraction is on the team, not the player.
That doesn’t mean Brady is completely innocent here. In his 20th season in the league, he assuredly knew at least the rough parameters of tampering. He was clearly a willing participant. It’s not like he normally spends his time innocently communicating with rival executives.
Sure, this is how most job switches work; an employee gets contacted. Brady wasn’t some normal job-seeker though.
So did the fact Brady was having conversations about his future with a different team impact his play while still with the Patriots? There is no way to know, of course. However, two of his worst games of the season came in a Week 17 loss to (coincidentally) Miami, which cost New England a first-round bye, and then in the wild-card loss to Tennessee.
Did he have one foot out the door?
This would run counter to a player whose career is defined by the relentless, even unhealthy, pursuit of victory. In New England phrases such as “All In” and “Do Your Job” and “LFG” are part of the lingo, in large part because of Brady.
You can’t blame anyone there for wondering what was going on. Not that Bill Belichick is willing to admit it.
“I’m focused on training camp,” Belichick told reporters Wednesday when asked about the tampering. “That’s all in the past.”
Again, New England got more than it ever could have asked for out of Tom Brady. The fact he was winning 12 regular-season games and a division title at age 42 was beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.
Still, in that final season, Brady was, at the very least, willing to be tampered with.
There is a twist though that should temper any — if any are even deserved — hard feelings up in Foxborough. By talking with Miami in 2019, Brady unwittingly gave New England a parting gift that will pay off, at least to some degree, in the seasons to come.
The Dolphins are now without a 2023 first-round draft pick and a 2024 third-rounder. That means an AFC East rival will be less able (at least a little bit) to stock future rosters with talent that will take New England on twice a year.
So there is that.
Brady may not have orchestrated a deep playoff run the season he was chatting up Miami, but in the end, he delivered one more loss to the Dolphins and one more advantage to the Patriots.