Early Friday morning, ESPN.com released another deep dive into the inner workings of the New England Patriots, this one examining a reported power struggle at the top of the organization between quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.
The other two key players in the piece were Alex Guerrero, Brady’s trainer/business partner who also works with several other Patriots players, and former Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the team traded to the San Francisco 49ers in October.
Below are some highlights from the piece, which was written and reported by Seth Wickersham. Many expand upon previously reported stories.
— Brady reportedly met with Kraft and Belichick several times early this season to reaffirm his stated desire to play into his mid-40s. His meeting with Belichick ended in a “little blowup.”
Later, before the NFL trade deadline, Kraft and Belichick held a lengthy meeting that ended with a “mandate” from the owner to trade Garoppolo, which left Belichick “furious and demoralized,” according to Wickersham. Belichick did as he was told, though, reaching out to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and offering him Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick.
Wickersham reported Belichick previously had sat down with Shanahan, the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, at the NFL Scouting Combine to discuss the Falcons’ crushing loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
— Belichick desperately wanted to keep Garoppolo, as he made clear in his first public comments following the trade. According to Wickersham’s sources, the Patriots approached the 26-year-old QB with multiple four-year contract offers worth between $17 million and $18 million that included pay raises that would kick in “if and when he succeeded Brady.”
Garoppolo, who was in his fourth season as Brady’s backup and had expressed a strong desire to start, turned down these offers.
— Belichick apparently has become “good friends” with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The two “held a long and private meeting” this week in Foxboro, according to Wickersham.
— Until a few years ago, Brady was not interested in becoming the health and fitness spokesman he is today and plans to continue being after his playing career is over. He reportedly did so at Guerrero’s urging. Opinions inside the organization about the TB12 Method were mixed, with some players utilizing it while others viewed it “like a cult.”
Brady’s reliance on the Method “worried people close to the QB, many of whom were suspicious of Guerrero,” Wickersham wrote.
“Tom changed,” a friend of Brady’s told Wickersham. “That’s where a lot of these problems started.”
— Players felt torn between working out at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center or with Patriots team trainers because they didn’t want to alienate either Brady or Belichick. Brady reportedly would tell teammates, “Bill’s answer to everything is to lift more weights,” and Belichick called a meeting with the QB in September to ask why young players felt pressured to train with Guerrero.
After this meeting, Belichick sent an email to Guerrero banning him from being on the sideline during games and restricting his access inside Gillette Stadium.
Earlier, in 2014, Belichick reportedly had removed Guerrero from meetings were players’ medical information was discussed after Guerrero repeatedly blamed Patriots team trainers for players’ injuries.
— Garoppolo reportedly set up an appointment at TB12 after injuring his shoulder but arrived at the clinic to find the doors locked and the place closed.
“Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player,” Wickersham wrote, “and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 — but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.”
— Belichick’s criticism of Brady’s lackluster performance in last season’s divisional-round win over the Houston Texans (“This will get us beat. We were lucky to get away with a win.”) didn’t sit well with the QB. Wickersham wrote that Brady is “less fine” with Belichick’s frequent critiques than he was earlier in his career:
“Belichick’s negativity and cynicism have gotten old, Brady has told other Patriots players and staff. He feels he has accomplished enough that he shouldn’t have to endure so much grief.”
— One Patriots staffer told Wickersham that Brady’s “nervousness” has increased this season as he’s battled Achilles and shoulder injuries. The example used was Brady’s pass to Chris Hogan in Week 8 that left the wide receiver with a shoulder injury.
— The Patriots told Wickersham there were “several inaccuracies (in his reporting) and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur.” That was the organization’s only on-record contribution to the piece.