What comes first: Tom Brady telling Bill Belichick he’s going to retire or Belichick telling Brady to retire or he’s going to release or trade him?
I think Belichick will be watching Brady intensely this season to check for any skill set erosion knowing he’s going to have to make a decision on Jimmy Garoppolo after the 2017 season. There is going to be more pressure on Brady than at any time since he had to play well enough to keep Drew Bledsoe on the bench in 2001.
It’s the way the NFL works. Belichick is cold-hearted with personnel decisions. Brady is going into unchartered territory being at the top of his game as he nears 40. How long can he defy history and logic? He wants to play until he’s 45 but if his production, physical skills and decision-making start to deteriorate, Belichick will toss nostalgia right into Nantucket Sound and move on from the best QB in NFL history.
Belichick took out an $820,077 insurance policy by not trading Garoppolo in April when he likely could have acquired the 12th overall pick from the Browns. Garoppolo’s value to the Patriots in the event Brady gets hurt this season or his skill set diminishes is worth far more than adding a first-round pick with only a 50-50 chance of being any good.
Brady hits the big four-oh in August. Garoppolo is 25 and going into the final year of his rookie contract. The Patriots are convinced they have found their next Brady. The issue: Brady is coming off one of his best seasons, just pulled off a stirring comeback for his fifth Super Bowl title, is in the best shape of his life and doesn’t see the end in sight. Even so, the speculation is underway in New England about whether the clock is ticking on Brady’s time with the Patriots and how Belichick is going to handle this.
There are many layers to what is a very compelling story:
- Brady in another uniform? Can’t happen? All bets were off when the 49ers traded Joe Montana in 1993, although he had been hurt for two seasons and had lost his job to Steve Young. But Jerry Rice, the all-time leading receiver, and Emmitt Smith, the all-time leading rusher, finished in different uniforms. So did Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
- If Brady plays lights out again this season, then Belichick will have to make a crucial decision on Garoppolo. He can franchise him for about $22 million and keep him as insurance for another year, even if he will be paying him $8 million more than Brady; he can franchise and trade him; convince him to wait out Brady and sign a long-term deal; or, let him leave as an unrestricted free agent.
- Belichick will have invested four years in Garoppolo by the end of the season. The Patriots are sold on him even with a small sample size. He started the first two games last year during Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension. He led the Patriots to the game-winning field goal to beat the Cardinals with less than four minutes left and then had three touchdowns and 232 yards passing before suffering a shoulder injury late in the first half the next week against the Dolphins. Is he durable enough? Can he handle the punishment? He didn’t even make it through six quarters. He missed a great opportunity with Brady out but rookie Jacoby Brissett started the next two games. Brady is 6-4, 225. Garoppolo is 6-2, 225. Standing next to each other, Brady is much bigger and thicker. Brady tore his ACL in the first game of his seventh year as a starter. Garoppolo couldn’t make it through two games.
- Belichick will remove emotion from the equation. He will do what is best for the team. He has dumped long-time popular players over and over. Can he do the same to Brady? Tom Sr. says Belichick has never allowed himself to get close to Tom and their relationship is “100% professional,” because one day Belichick might be telling him he’s no longer needed.
If Belichick knew Brady could go on for another five years, this would be easy. But if he lets Garoppolo leave and by midway through the 2018 season Brady is playing like a 41-year old, he’s going to be second-guessing himself.
One other factor: Patriots owner Robert Kraft loves Brady. He has also given Belichick total control of all football decisions. Will he let Belichick run Brady out of town? Remember one thing: Kraft loved Bledsoe, too, and he was gone one year after signing a $103 million contract.
Oakland’s Derek Carr is scheduled to make just under $1 million in the last year of his four-year $5.4 million rookie contract. He has emerged as the best young QB in the league and is the key guy trying to keep the fans in Oakland behind the Raiders before they move to Las Vegas in 2020. There was a report that Carr is frustrated at the pace of negotiations for a new deal, but Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie said, “The bottom line is that we love Derek and we want to keep him. We’re going to do everything to make sure this contract gets done.” Carr should get the $25 million per year standard set by Andrew Luck. The goal is to get the deal done before training camp... The Eagles are putting some veteran pieces around Carson Wentz. They signed receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount... The last time the Patriots devalued Blount was in 2014 when they let him sign with the Steelers. He came right back after the Steelers cut him during the season and helped New England win the Super Bowl. He helped them win another last season, rushing for 1,181 yards and 18 TDs during the regular season. The Eagles got him for just $1.25 million in base salary — $350,000 over the league minimum — with a chance to bring the total to $2.8 million with incentives. He had a huge fumble in the Super Bowl and Belichick doesn’t forget... As I mentioned May 1, “Now that the draft is over, Tampa looks to be the best spot for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He would be a good backup and mentor for Jameis Winston. No-names Ryan Griffin and Sean Renfree are listed as Winston’s backups after Mike Glennon signed with the Bears.” Fitz signed with the Bucs on Friday. Some things just make sense. Tampa is Fitz’s seventh team since he was the Rams’ seventh-round pick in 2005. He’s getting $3 million from the Bucs, the same amount the Jets were willing to guarantee when they offered him the three-year deal he turned down last year. That’s a $9 million pay cut from what he made in 2016.
TIE ’EM ON
League owners will hold a one-day spring meeting in Chicago on Monday. They are expected to approve increasing the numbers of players who can be activated after spending eight weeks on injured reserve from one to two. Also, regular season overtime will likely be cut from 15 minutes down to 10 if there is no winner. The idea is to reduce the possibility of injuries, especially if a team is then scheduled to play a game four days later on Thursday night. Over the last five years, five games have ended in a tie. The NFL says that of the 83 games that went into overtime the last five years, 22 went past the 10th minute, so potentially a lot more games would end tied up. But coaches would also adjust their overtime strategy and become more aggressive in the eighth or ninth minute. At the very least, more ties would make figuring out the playoff tiebreakers at the end of the season much easier.
L.A. DELAYED STORY
This is going to be the longest rain delay in sports history: One year. Construction delays brought on by heavy rains pushed back the opening of the Rams’ and Chargers’ new $2.6 billion stadium in Los Angeles from 2019 until 2020. The NFL awarded Super Bowl LV to Los Angeles after the 2020 season. Now to keep the game there the NFL will have to waive its rule requiring stadiums to be open for two full seasons before it can host the Super Bowl. The NFL has awarded the next four Super Bowls to Minneapolis, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles. Tampa made a bid for the next three games and lost out each time, but if a change has to be made, Tampa would be the most likely site prepared to step in. New York-New Jersey is gearing up to make a bid for MetLife Stadium for the 2022 or 2023 game, which will be awarded at the spring meeting in 2018. NY-NJ hosted in 2014. Don’t look for Giants and Jets to try and fill the void if the L.A. game gets pushed back. “I have not discussed this with anyone, but I would say doubtful,” Giants owner John Mara told the Daily News in an email.