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. 

Report: Brady expected to play Saturday night vs. Texans, but not Gronk

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Report: Brady expected to play Saturday night vs. Texans, but not Gronk

Tom Brady and other Patriots starters are expected to make their preseason debuts Saturday in the second preseason game vs. the Texans in Houston, but Rob Gronkowski won't play, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports.

Gronkowski, recovering from back surgery performed late last season, hasn't played in a preseason game since 2012. 

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Brady and new acquisitions Brandin Cooks at wide receiver and Mike Gillislee at running back, along with wide receiver Julian Edelman and other starters, did not play in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Jaguars last week in Foxboro. The Patriots and Texans have been conducting joint practices at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia and Howe reports the plan all week has been to have the starters participate in the game Saturday night.

Of course, Bill Belichick reserves the right to change those plans. 

The Pats will return to the site of their last victory, NRG Stadium in Houston, where New England won Super Bowl 51 over the Falcons in February, to play the Texans. 

Freeney among available options if Patriots looking for pass-rush help

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Freeney among available options if Patriots looking for pass-rush help

For years, the Patriots have schemed to keep Dwight Freeney away from Tom Brady. Might they be interested in making him Brady's teammate?

With the news coming down on Friday that rookie third-round pick Derek Rivers may have suffered a season-ending knee injury, it was just the latest hit to an edge group that was already hurting for numbers.

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The Patriots lost Rob Ninkovich to retirement early in training camp. They lost rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise for a to-be-determined period of time to a head injury suffered during last week's preseason game with the Jaguars. They lost Shea McClellin to an apparent injury earlier this month that has kept him out for almost two weeks.

So what's next? Here are some of the options . . .

IMMEDIATE HELP FROM OUTSIDE THE ORGANIZATION

Bill Belichick and his staff could look outside the organization for help right away via free agency or trade. Freeney, who recorded seven quarterback hurries and a sack in Super Bowl LI, is available as a free agent. Former Dolphins, Bills and Texans defensive end Mario Williams -- who Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have happily referred to as "Big M" over the years -- is also without a team at the moment. Both of those players, 37 and 32 years old, respectively, could serve as stop-gap options. ESPN's Mike Reiss noted on Friday that perhaps Ninkovich could come out of retirement to help the club. 

Then there's the possibility of the trade. The Patriots are annually among the league's most aggressive teams in terms of looking for deals to help their roster, and this year figures to be no different. They have plenty in the way of draft capital if they decide to continue their recent trend of parting ways with picks for proven players in return. There are also valuable pieces on their roster who could end up elsewhere if the return is right. Of those, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and corner Malcolm Butler -- both in contract years -- would figure to be among their most valuable potential trade chips.

TAKE A WAIT-AND-SEE APPROACH

With only one cutdown deadline this year -- teams will have their rosters trimmed from 90 players to 53 following the last week of the preseason -- chaos figures to reign as teams scour the waiver wire for both active-roster and practice-squad help. Clubs could steadily make their releases in the days leading up to the deadline, but the expectation is that there will still be a tsunami of cuts that take place in a very short span. The Patriots are already preparing for the well over 1,000 players who will eventually become available, taking an all-hands-on-deck approach in the scouting and personnel departments. Perhaps as things get hectic right around the deadline, capable edge help will become available. If it does, don't be surprsied to see the Patriots pounce. 

GO WITH WHAT THEY HAVE

The Patriots could choose to simply roll with what's on the roster for 2017. Their front-seven is loaded with versatile defensive linemen and linebackers who can play a variety of positions. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Harvey Langi have seen time on the edge in recent practices. Trey Flowers should be a staple on the edge when he's not being used as an interior rusher. Lawrence Guy is more of an interior force and seems to be ideally used as a five-technique, but he played all along the defensive line in Baltimore and could have some positional versatility in New England. Kony Ealy has started to show some things as a pass-rusher of late. And undrafted rookie defensive lineman Adam Butler -- who saw time everywhere from nose tackle to stand-up edge-rusher during training camp -- is an intriguing young prospect. 

The Patriots situation on the edge is far from ideal at the moment, and they could try to remedy their issues quickly with some outside help. But if they choose to stand pat, they do have options.