Stephen A. Smith sure sounds convinced that Bill Belichick is to blame for Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots.
Brady expressed nothing but love for the Patriots organization Tuesday when announcing via social media his intent to leave New England in free agency this offseason. Belichick reciprocated that admiration in a statement subsequently released by the Patriots head coach.
But Smith explained Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take” that he believes Brady would have stayed with the Patriots had Belichick showed a little more appreciation toward the tail end of the quarterback’s tenure in New England.
Instead, Belichick seemingly treated Brady like everybody else in spite of the QB’s unprecedented résumé, and it ultimately resulted in a divorce that once felt unimaginable.
“I believe — this is my personal belief; nothing else — if he were treated better by Bill Belichick, and not treated as just somebody that, ‘You know what, you’re just another player,’ as opposed to a six-time champion, the quarterback who has led this franchise to nine Super Bowl appearances over the last 19, 20 years. If he was treated as such and acknowledged in that fashion, I don’t believe that Tom Brady would be departing from the New England Patriots for next season,” Smith said. “I don’t believe he would have said goodbye today. I think he said goodbye because as much as he loves Mr. (Robert) Kraft, at the end of the day, you’re dealing with somebody in Bill Belichick, who by all accounts is a phenomenal coach — nobody’s questioning that — but his interpersonal skills, his unwillingness to sit up there and cultivate a relationship with somebody where you’re elevating one above others — I think his inability to do that, to use the phraseology ‘kiss the ring,’ per se … his unwillingness to do that made it an untenable situation for Tom Brady.
“I think that’s why he’s leaving and I think that Bill Belichick is going to feel some heat, because where do you go from here, which is something we’ll get into later? But people are going to ask that question. If Tom Brady just decided to retire, that would’ve been different. Tom Brady decided he wants to play, but moving on from the New England Patriots is a direct indictment against Bill Belichick no matter what way you slice it, and I think that’s the story that we’ll be following for months to come.”
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Brady reportedly is expected to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replacing Jameis Winston, who’s had an up-and-down start to his career since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2015.
Would things have played out differently had Belichick simply showed more appreciation for Brady over the past few years, months, weeks and maybe even days? Perhaps, although it’s also fair to wonder whether both sides simply were ready for new chapters in their respective careers.