Curran: The Patriots, Tom Brady and the gathering storm

Curran: The Patriots, Tom Brady and the gathering storm

I’m not here to light the fire. I’m just here to acknowledge the pyre has been built. 

Today, on the three-year anniversary of the Patriots drafting Jimmy Garoppolo, the Jimmy over Tommy possibility remains real. 

More probable than not? Not quite. But with the draft passing and Garoppolo remaining in New England, the Tom Brady Doomsday Clock inched closer to midnight. 

The decision the greatest coach in NFL history will eventually make about the greatest quarterback in NFL history will alter their legacies and color the perception of all they built in a nearly two-decade collaboration with the Patriots. 

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Either they ride off into the sunset together (give or take a season) or Brady gets dealt and the repellent image of Brady in another uniform comes true . 

I don’t know where a “Tom Brady Traded!” story would rank in league history, but it would carry the force of a comet landing in the Common here in Boston. 

He’s a historical landmark now. To ship him out would be like sending Plymouth Rock to Dallas. 

There is no real precedent.

When the 49ers traded Joe Montana, he was a battered player who’d missed most of the previous two seasons. When the Colts released Peyton Manning, he’d missed the previous year because of neck surgery. When the Packers dealt Brett Favre, his Hamlet act had worn them down to a nub. 

In one sense, this situation is nothing like those. Brady is -- even at 39 -- full-go. He’s won two Super Bowls in the three seasons since Garoppolo got here, and went out on his shield in Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Even though Montana and Favre both made it to Conference Championship games after leaving the Niners and Packers and Manning won a Super Bowl in Denver, all of them were physical shells of what they had been. 

But in another very important way, the situations then and now are the same. Steve Young was taking over for Montana. Andrew Luck was on-deck for Manning. Aaron Rodgers was biding time behind Favre. 

In May of 2014, I called Garoppolo a wasted second-round pick. By August -- as Garoppolo was opening eyes in training camp and the dust was settling from the Logan Mankins got trade -- I declared Brady would probably be gone by 2017. The timing ain’t right but the landscape is unchanged. Watch the video and tell me where I’m wrong:

                        

The night Garoppolo was drafted and Belichick mentioned Brady’s age and contract situation, the endgame was underway. It’s taking a little longer to arrive because Brady has beaten back the Garoppolo challenge with the best football of his life, but that’s probably the only reason the Patriots haven’t pulled the ripcord already. 

The Patriots don’t necessarily trade a starter when his backup is better than him. They trade a starter when -- in a season or two -- the backup will be cheaper, approximately as good and the starter yields a return in a trade. 

Whether it’s Mankins or Richard Seymour or Jamie Collins, the equation was the same. 

Nobody in New England has their mind around this math better than Brady. 

“You can’t be around this long and not realize that the world will keep spinning and the sun will come up tomorrow without you,” Brady said last November after the Collins trade. “That’s just the way it goes. You enjoy the experiences you have and also understand that it just keeps going on. It could happen to anybody. You just have to show up to work, do the best you can every day and let your performance try to speak for itself.”

Separately, Brady told Kirk & Callahan

I hope it never happens. I don't think any player loves when that happens. But part of what I said last week was, when you've been around for as long as I have, you know . . . Michael Jordan played for a different team. Brett Favre played for a different team. Randy Moss played for a different team. Joe Montana played for a different team. There's been a lot of great players before me who have gone. Guys that I've played with. Rodney Harrison and Wes Welker.

All these guys that have been so spectacular. It's hard to imagine them ever playing different places, but it's part of sports. I hope I'm never in that situation because, like I said, this is where I love to play. This is where I want to play. This is the team I've played for my entire career. I've loved being the quarterback for this team, and hopefully I can continue to do it for as long as I can continue to perform at a high level. That's what my goal is. That's why I try to work hard at it and try to put myself in a position where I add a lot of value to the team. That's what you try to do as a player. 

There will be checkpoints along the way in the coming year. Garoppolo, who is a free agent at the end of the season, could be swapped at the trade deadline. The team could franchise him next March (a tag that will likely be in excess of $22 million) then trade him. It could sign him to an extension, working out a deal with his agent, Don Yee -- who also represents Brady

Is it in Garoppolo’s best interest to re-sign, then sit and wait for Brady to decide he’s had enough of the NFL? The impression I’ve gotten from Brady is that the quarterback position in New England will have to be pried from his cold, dead hand. 

Brady, meanwhile, is under contract through 2019 (he’ll be 41 when his deal expires) and his salary is an ultra-manageable $14 million. 

If Brady hadn’t won five Super Bowls, galvanized a fanbase in defiance of the NFL that persecuted him, helped make a few billion for the Family Kraft and given the region something to do with itself in the fall and winter for the past 18 years, he’d probably already be gone. 

Because the other side of why Brady’s been able to pilot the Patriots to greatness is that Belichick set the flight plan. And that plan includes an unflinching, unapologetic, simplistic mantra that he is in his role to do what’s best for the team. 

No matter how much it hurts. No matter how many people cry. No matter how personal the attacks become. Whether it’s making the hard, unpopular calls on Bernie Kosar or Drew Bledsoe or Lawyer Milloy, Belichick can make them because he’s got the belly for it. It is, in my opinion, part of his DNA because of how he was raised, a product of the Naval Academy even though he wasn’t a Midshipman. 

If it happens -- and I would rather it didn’t -- you hope it won’t be messy, but you know it probably will be. 

"It will end badly," Tom Brady Sr., said two years ago. "It does end badly. And I know that because I know what Tommy wants to do. He wants to play 'til he's 70 . . . It's a cold business. And for as much as you want it to be familial, it isn't."

On Monday, the Vegas odds were again adjusted and the Patriots’ 2017 win total is pegged at 12.5.

On Tuesday, Brandin Cooks was unveiled to the media. 

For Patriots fans, the sun’s out, it’s 85 degrees and we’re all playing volleyball and frolicking in the surf. 

Way offshore, a tsunami gathers. 

Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

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Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

Bill Belichick issued the following statement on Monday, a day after 16 Patriots took a knee in protest of racial inequality and Donald Trump's comments against the NFL:

“I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men.  I have coached football for over four decades and one of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience.  As with any large group of people, there is a variety of perspectives and opinions on many topics.  Discussions occur between myself, individual players, groups and the entire team on an ongoing basis.  They concern the team and other issues surrounding the team.  I am going to keep the specifics of those conversations private.  I will do what I feel is best for the team in my role as head coach and collectively, we will work together to find the best way to proceed.” 
 

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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