What started Friday morning as a glimmer of hope for Giants fans that Bill Belichick somehow might become the team’s head coach is looking more and more like a pipe dream.
An ESPN report that detailed infighting among the Patriots was the impetus behind the intense speculation that Belichick could find his way back to the team where he began his legacy as a coaching genius.
The richly reported story of the Patriots’ palace intrigue raised the specter of such intense dysfunction that it seemed at least plausible to connect the dots to a potential Belichick departure. But the blowback from inside the Patriots’ organization, as well as from people who are familiar with Belichick’s situation and the Giants’, suggests that Belichick isn’t going anywhere just yet.
It started with a joint statement from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on Friday pushing back at the suggestions of serious disagreements among the three. The report stated that Kraft had ordered Belichick to trade Brady’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, so Brady would feel less threatened, and that Belichick has grown increasingly frustrated about the situation. The report also intimated that Belichick ultimately might be inclined to leave the organization.
In the statement, the three called out “multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate. The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future.”
Others outside the organization suggested a Belichick divorce from the Patriots isn’t likely.
“There would have to be some pretty substantial compensation if he wants to coach somewhere else,” said a person who knows Belichick. “Can you see that happening? I don’t.”
Another person familiar with the situation said the Belichick-to-the-Giants scenario is unrealistic, calling the idea “so far-fetched, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
On Saturday, Kraft himself poured cold water on the idea of letting Belichick go, telling Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he expects Belichick to be with the Patriots in 2018 and won’t consider trading his coach. Kraft also denied that he had ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo as a way to assuage Brady’s fears of losing his job.
“When you’re lucky enough to have someone exceptional,” Kraft said of Belichick, “you let them do their job and you get out of the way.”
Brady also chafed about reports of tension within the organization. “I see it as I’ve seen it for the last 18 years: that we’re all there to do a job and that’s to go out and do our best to help the team win, so that’s been very consistent here,” Brady told Jim Gray in an interview on the Westwood One Radio Network. “That’s been a big reason why our team has been so successful, and I don’t see that any different going into this week.”
The pushback was forceful and will go a long way toward at least tamping down speculation about any major changes in the near term. But there appear to be internal issues that are bubbling to the surface and causing some consternation, not the least of which was Belichick’s recent decision to bar Brady’s longtime trainer, Alex Guerrero, from treating other Patriots players at the team’s training facility.
Brady swears by Guerrero’s methods, which sometimes are at odds with the Patriots’ training staff, so there is a delicate balance to be drawn here. Belichick doesn’t want to completely alienate Brady, who traces his longevity to many of Guerrero’s training and diet suggestions. At the same time, Belichick wants to maintain continuity within his own locker room and not turn his back on his own approach, which he believes has contributed to the collective greatness of his teams over the years.
What remains to be seen is just how long Belichick’s tenure will last. Kraft has been unequivocal in his desire to keep Belichick as long as he wants to coach, and the owner’s loyalty to Brady is unquestioned. In fact, that might be at the heart of the situation facing the franchise. With Garoppolo having developed into a capable backup and with his contract set to expire after the season, the team reluctantly decided to trade him to the 49ers for a second-round pick.
Garoppolo, who won two starts last year during Brady’s four-game suspension in connection with the Deflategate controversy, won all five of his starts with San Francisco. The Patriots potentially would have had a much longer era of quarterback stability had they somehow been able to retain Garoppolo, but the 40-year-old Brady has expressed a desire to play several more years.
Belichick has moved on from several veteran players in past years — Richard Seymour, Ty Law and Vince Wilfork among them — but Brady’s situation clearly is unique. Do you really consider trading or even releasing a player who is about to win the Most Valuable Player Award and might be weeks away from winning a sixth Super Bowl?
Brady holds such a special place in team history, and is so well regarded by Belichick and Kraft, that they chose to honor his legacy, potentially at the expense of longer-term success. It’s a decision that might negatively impact the team down the road, but is moving on from an iconic player who remains highly effective the way to go?
The Patriots decided it was not, and no one except Belichick truly knows whether he would have preferred to cut ties with Brady.
Thus, the uncertainty that envelops a Patriots team that has been at the epicenter of NFL success for almost 20 years has become a hot topic.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end for Belichick’s run in New England, a tenure that will earn him first-ballot Hall of Fame induction? Or is this simply the kind of internal friction that sometimes is inevitable when three men driven by perfection compete in the crucible of the most challenging league in sports?
Belichick’s next move — even if he doesn’t make any move — will be highly anticipated.
The operative words at this point: Stay tuned.