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Reimer: After ESPN Patriots story, tension between Brady, Belichick and Kraft can no longer be denied

Alex Reimer
January 05, 2018 - 12:21 pm

There is one problem with trying to discredit ESPN’s bombshell story about the intensifying tension between Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady: the information it contains supports a season’s worth of reporting. 

Belichick’s apparent distaste for Alex Guerrero, who serves as Brady’s personal guru, confidante, business partner and godfather to his son, was first acknowledged in a 2015 Boston Globe story about the Patriots’ relationship with the TB12 Sports Therapy Center. In it, author Bob Hohler outlines the training staff’s unease with Guerrero’s access. When confronted with a complaint, Belichick said, “What am I supposed to do? Tom wants him here,” according to one source.

Guerrero’s extensive history with the Patriots is chronicled in ESPN’s feature. Seth Wickersham reports Guerrero was given unfettered access in 2013, including permission to be part of meetings in which players’ medical records were discussed. But that access was curtailed in 2014, because Guerrero would frequently criticize the trainers for injuries and cause discord. Still, Guerrero was allowed to see players inside of his Gillette Stadium office. Brady’s influence reportedly grew to the point where young players felt pressured to train with Guerrero –– and shun the Patriots’ official staff. That’s why, Wickersham writes, Belichick banned Guerrero from the sidelines in early September. Hohler first reported that aspect of the story last month. 

ESPN’s credibility when it comes to reporting on the Patriots is rightfully destroyed, because of the way it bungled Deflategate. Chris Mortensen falsely reported 11 of 12 Patriots’ footballs were two PSI below the league limit. As it turns out, only one football was. The story was not corrected for months.

But Wickersham was not involved in Mortensen's fiasco. He's also been on top of this story. Two months ago, in a long article about Brady’s playing future, Wickersham quotes a friend of Belichick’s who predicts an incoming “collision” between the head coach and Brady about Guerrero’s role with the team. The sideline banishment would appear to fit that characterization. 

More convincingly, respected Patriots reporters have been writing about the seeming discord between Belichick and Guerrero for months. Last week, NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran speculated this could be the last chapter of the Patriots’ run. In the column, he highlights Belichick’s mistrust of Guerrero. 

“Guerrero’s been exiled from the sidelines and his access to players is now limited to the ones who go up to the shop,” he writes. “Whether Bill Belichick was right or wrong to draw a bright red line between Guerrero and the Patriots training and medical staff is moot. What’s important to this discussion is what impact coverage of Guerrero being pushed to the periphery has going forward.”

Boston Sports Journal's Greg Bedard, whose website’s mission statement denounces gossipy reporting, has also reported on friction between Belichick and Brady over Guerrero. 

So when beat writers like the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe insist there's no issue, he's not just rebuking the evil Patriots haters at ESPN. Trusted local guys have reported similar stories. 

The biggest revelation in Wickersham’s article is that Kraft, after months of lobbying from Brady about his desire to play into his mid-40s, instructed Belichick to trade Garoppolo at the deadline in late October. Wickersham writes Belichick’s friends characterized him as “furious and demoralized” following his lengthy meeting with Kraft. Days later, Belichick texted 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, and struck a deal. Garoppolo wasn’t shopped to other teams.

Those details line up with Adam Scheffer’s recent remarks on the "Dan Patrick Show" about how Belichick negotiated with the 49ers in abrupt fashion. Bedard also says Belichick didn't want to trade Garoppolo this season. That makes sense. Unless Belichick missed wildly, there’s no reason why he would’ve held onto Garoppolo through the offseason –– when he could’ve likely garnered at least one first-round pick for his services –– to deal him at the deadline for a second-round pick. It seems like something abrupt happened. The hurried process doesn't fit into Belichick's history. 

In order to discredit Wickersham’s reporting, some members of the Patriots cartel are attacking his journalistic integrity. Barstool Sports’ Jerry Thornton tries to rebut Wickersham’s piece, saying he once authored an outrageous article about how the Patriots allegedly gave opponents warm sports drinks and used Gillette Stadium’s scoreboard to cheat. The problem is, that story was authored by Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg. Wickersham did write a piece about Deflategate, but it tied the draconian penalties to Spygate. 

Kraft, Belichick and Brady released a joint statement denouncing Wickersham’s report, calling its content “unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate.” The statement did not provide any specifics. 

Don Yee, Brady’s and Garoppolo’s agent, casted doubt on the story as well

Some aspects of Wickersham’s latest story seem fantastical. The visual of Garoppolo standing outside of a shuttered TB12 clinic, for example, is a bit humorous. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart also said Friday commissioner Roger Goodell did not meet with Belichick in the past week, which is alleged in the story. Wickersham stood by his reporting Friday on "Dale & Holley with Keefe," saying two sources told him about the meeting. 

But the takeaways from the piece are the Belichick and Brady rift and the seemingly forced nature of the Jimmy G trade. Those details have been reported on before. If you can’t trust ESPN, that’s fine. But how about Schefter, Curran, Bedard and Hohler? 

Of course Belichick, Brady and Kraft can co-exist and bring more Super Bowls to Foxborough. But sometimes, high-powered and ego-driven individuals clash. That seems to be what's happening here. It’s not hard to grasp. 

This post has been updated. 

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