Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

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Tomase: Why this Tom Brady-Bill Belichick-Alex Guerrero story really matters to the Patriots now and later

John Tomase
December 20, 2017 - 10:22 pm
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The two most important figures in Patriots history disagree about a man one of them considers his confidante/guru/life coach/miracle worker and we're supposed to move along because there's nothing to see here?

That's crazy.

Tom Brady has entrusted more than his career to Alex Guerrero. He has literally brought him into his family as the godfather to his son. He plans to spend his retirement preaching their shared vision of the TB12 Method -- a calling he finds as energizing as his Super Bowl titles. And he credits his unrivaled longevity to Guerrero's training and techniques.

Guerrero isn't just Brady's trainer. He's also his business partner and close friend. So when he's practically exiled from Foxboro -- the Boston Globe reports that Guerrero is no longer welcome on the sidelines or team planes, and that the only player he can treat on stadium premises is Brady -- forgive me for believing this is a big deal.

Many of you remain unconvinced, however. So what if Bill Belichick wants a unified voice on training and rehab, you ask with a shrug. He's the coach and it's his ship. Brady can work out with Guerrero as much as he wants. Stop trying to force-feed this giant nothingburger of conflict and confrontation.

To you skeptics, I offer the following reasons why this matters.

First off, with all due respect to Robert Kraft, the most important partnership in Foxboro exists between the coach and quarterback. Brady is a Hall of Famer who knows Belichick better than any player. Brady's complete and utter buy-in of the Patriot Way has allowed Belichick to be Belichick. When the team's biggest star practices the selflessness that Belichick preaches, the other 60-odd players must join the conga line.

Introduce a disagreement over someone as fundamentally important to Brady as Guerrero, however, and perhaps the quarterback starts to reassess his loyalties. Belichick may be his boss now, but Brady plans on Guerrero playing a major role in the rest of his life. I'm not sure we'd like the answer if he were forced to choose.

Even if this plays no role in the team's performance the rest of this season, it's fair to wonder about the longer-term implications. Brady's stated desire to play well into his 40s won't be easy under perfect circumstances. If he doubts the organization's commitment to his approach, it's plausible to envision it impacting his drive to play at 42, 43, 44.

And we shouldn't be so quick to argue that Guerrero's banishment has played no role on the field. In case you haven't noticed, Brady hasn't played particularly well in about a month. He has thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions in his last three games, including a loss to the Dolphins. Imagine the mental preparation it takes for a player Brady's age to excel, and now imagine this dispute rolling into the middle of it like a live grenade. We've already seen Brady survive Deflategate, but this is different. This is personal.

Brady could brush off the former because he knew his success had nothing to do with PSI levels. Marginalizing Guerrero, however, cuts right to the core of Brady's greatness. He sees the two as inextricable. Brady fervently believes Guerrero has given him the tools to thrive. Now he's being told his guru is a nuisance.

This is not how the Patriots typically enter the home stretch. They're usually immune to outside distractions, barring something taking on a life of its own like deflated footballs. For an issue to escape the walls of Gillette this late in the season suggests it has passed the point of mere aggravation.

All of this is putting Belichick in a very tough position. When you cut through his resume, Guerrero really possesses zero qualifications beyond Brady's trust. His master's degree, if it even exists, came from a defunct college of Chinese medicine. Contrast that with the Patriots training staff, which received the Ed Block Courage Award as the best in football last year.

Head trainer Jim Whalen owns a master's in sports medicine from Miami and has played a part in four Super Bowl titles since 2002. His assistant, Joe Van Allen, also earned a master's at Miami and has been overseeing rehabs -- including Brady's from knee surgery -- since 2001. Assistant trainer Daryl Nelson received a master's from Ohio State. Physical therapist Michael Akinbola holds three degrees, including a doctor of physical therapy from the University of Delaware. Dietician Ted Harper has trained special operations soldiers and U.S. Olympic speed skaters, with degrees from Utah and Purdue.

Those are some seriously accomplished trainers with more than 40 years and 13 Super Bowls here between them. Who is Belichick supposed to trust? These five men, with their track record of success under his watch, or Guerrero, who has been sued twice for fraud after claiming to be a doctor?

Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal reported on Wednesday that Patriots trainers resented Guerrero providing conflicting treatment to some of the 20-odd players under his supervision. He cited the specific example of a starter told to do squats by the trainers, but ordered not to by Guerrero. The player sided with Guerrero.

That kind of mixed messaging can't be tolerated, especially when it's coming from an outsider. It's easy to see why Belichick would take serious umbrage. Who does Guerrero think he is?

How this ends is anyone's guess. Were Jimmy Garoppolo still around -- and after watching him galvanize the 49ers for three weeks, it's easy to understand why Belichick only reluctantly traded him -- Guerrero's banishment could make for a fascinating offseason subplot.

As it is now, with no clear replacement in the pipeline, the Patriots will ride Brady for as long he's willing to stand under center. He believes Guerrero makes that job possible. Belichick no longer considers him worth the headache.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like nothing to me.

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