Tom Brady’s move from the Patriots to … what’s this, Tampa Bay? … after two decades in New England brings to mind a longtime question in pro sports: What is the best way for an indebted team to handle an aging legend?
Pay and play him or send him packing? Give him what he wants or let him walk? Reward him for what he’s earned in the past or call it good and look ahead? Value loyalty or embrace pragmatics? Appreciate him, make him feel wanted, or relegate him to commodity status?
The Jazz faced the same thing back when one of their all-time greats, Karl Malone, edged toward the end of his career. The 49ers faced a similar situation when Joe Montana aged. The Lakers faced it with Kobe. Albert Pujols left the Cardinals after 11 seasons for the Angels because, as he said it, he didn’t feel properly appreciated.
All teams with great players who have spent the majority of their careers with one club are confronted with the same deal.
If you were Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, what would you have done with the now-slightly-less-than-terrific Tom? How would you have treated him?
Would you match what the 42-year-old Brady could get on the open market or hold back that cash to be spent in other areas on other players to better head into a future that one day is inevitable anyway, namely one without the stellar quarterback? Would you let your own egos get in the way? Or let his ego get in the way?
Brady, as darn near everybody knows, is the greatest of all time. He led the Patriots to nearly two fistfuls of Super Bowl rings. Nobody else has matched that. Nobody else in any sport is as connected to a single club as he is … or, was. The post-Super Bowl images of him hugging Belichick and Kraft while holding the Lombardi Trophy are seared into your brain, they’re seared into football’s brain.
He is them, they are him, the Pats franchise is him.
But as Brady moved fully into his battle against he who is undefeated — Father Time — the Patriots, as businesslike an outfit as there is in any pro league, started showing signs that they would be less than cooperative in either giving the quarterback the berth he desired or remunerating him according to his wishes through his final seasons.
They would be led by an even bigger chief — Belichick — and allocate those funds to other priorities.
Which is to say, they didn’t think Brady was worth the required genuflecting or the $30-plus million he could get out of another suitor, like the Bucs or the Chargers.
Their pride and practicality, their responsibility for the present and future, trumped their ability to acquiesce or to find sentimentality for a player who had given them more than what any other player had given any other franchise ever in pro sports, completely blocking out their willingness to open up the vault and power forward with the same old favorite.
Maybe the Patriots owe that to their fans. Build toward what comes next. But it’s just as likely that Pats fans don’t want to exact that toll. They figure the team could go on winning with Brady, perhaps not at a championship level, not anymore, but still remain respectable.
The man is an icon, after all. He brought titles to an NFL town, an entire region, that certainly was not — and never had been — used to sitting atop the football world. And Brady put them there. Maybe it was Belichick who did the heavy lifting, but it’s reasonable to figure the quarterback, the leader on the field, was more important.
Upon Brady’s announcement of his departure, both Belichick and Kraft paid tribute to the QB, appropriately and accurately calling him the GOAT. And Brady must have appreciated that. But it’s a good guess what he would have appreciated more is to have been given the respect and contract he wanted to finish out his career where he started it — in New England.
Or maybe, just maybe, he wanted to get out of Dodge and try something new. Why? Just because he could, he felt like it, he wanted a new challenge, he thought the old scene had grown stale.
Either way, whether you hate the Patriots or love them, it’s just weird to think of Brady in a uniform other than the nautical blue, silver, white and red. Who wants to see him in pewter and dark red and black, or, heaven forbid, the old orange and red, or whatever it is the Bucs are cooking up new for 2020?
Brady thinks he can still play at a high level and for extended seasons. Apparently, the Pats did not, not at his price, not in his way, not to his liking. They did not make him feel that they did.
So, with him at the controls in Tampa Bay, he’ll probably thrive, and the Bucs are likely to win. They have weapons Brady can utilize and a 67-year-old head coach, Bruce Arians, a longtime quarterback whisperer who wants to win … now, in a different town not accustomed to winning. They need an immediate leader under center, and even if Brady’s arm isn’t what it once was, his credentials as a team general are indisputable.
It just seems, in a world that needs a little more steadiness and normalcy and loyalty, unsteady and abnormal and disloyal to think of Brady as something other than a Patriot.
Is nothing the way it used to be?
Tom Brady’s an ex-Pat now, bound to live and play in a foreign land — Florida.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.