Tomase: You're either with Brady or Belichick, so pick a side as civil war looms

John Tomase
April 19, 2018 - 1:40 am
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

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So this is how the greatest coach-quarterback partnership in NFL history ends: by picking sides.

It's one thing to debate who deserves more credit for the titles. There's no wrong answer, because no one's taking away those five Lombardis. It's quite another to spy the looming apocalypse and rally your bannermen in preparation for battle with a former ally.

Are you Team Brady or Team Belichick?

Bill Belichick is a five-time Super Bowl champion and architect of the NFL's most enduring dynasty. In an age when most title windows slam shut after three years, Belichick has kept the Patriots humming for nearly 20.

Tom Brady quarterbacked each of those championships, not only by excelling on the field, but by setting an example off of it. None of this would be possible without him.

They two have coexisted mostly peacefully throughout the years, but that sound you hear reverberating ever louder from Foxboro is war drums. Armistice feels unlikely.

Brady wants to build his brand, work with his hand-picked trainer without judgement, and embrace the positivity that has come to define this Tony Robbins-esque portion of his life.

Belichick, conversely, shares none of those desires. He wants Brady to remain just one of 53. He wants most workouts overseen by the team's training staff. He wants Brady to continue absorbing his wrath like a bug zapper because it ensures no one's above the law.

Belichick's methods have produced eight Super Bowl trips and yearly dominance. Brady, however, can make a case for preferential treatment as he nears his 41st birthday.

So where are your allegiances? Whom do you side with? And do you have the stomach to make that call?

Bob Kraft may soon be asking himself these very questions. Brady is clearly unhappy. NBC's Tom E. Curran has dropped hints for a while now that Brady won't guarantee he's returning in 2018. ESPN's Adam Schefter on Wednesday upgraded those hints to fact.

Belichick has never faced this kind of insurrection. Brady might not play at all, and at the very least, it looks like he won't spend much time participating in the offseason program. Tight end Rob Gronkowski stubbornly refuses to commit to return after threats of retirement. Danny Amendola took some thinly veiled shots at Belichick in an exit interview with ESPN's Mike Reiss, particularly over the Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler.

That said, Belichick's teams didn't reach these heights because he decided halfway through the run to take it easy. He's the coach. Nowhere does it say he has to be nice or complimentary or friendly. It's hard to envision him succeeding as anything other than the grouchy, slouchy, misanthrope Patriots fans love.

And that's why, ultimately, I can't side with Brady on this one. The culture has been established. It's no secret, least of all to Brady. If Belichick reverses course and, say, allows Alex Guerrero full access to the facilities again, the coach's credibility suffers, his authority weakens, and it's worth noting he's probably already dealing with a reduced margin for error, thanks to working conditions that ain't exactly internet-startup-with-a-foosball-lounge relaxing. For Belichick to maintain control of a generation of players that's becoming more comfortable speaking its mind requires total superstar buy-in. That superstar has always been Brady.

That's why the Patriots committed to him whole hog by trading his replacement. If you believe ESPN's Seth Wickersham, whose reporting made this local story a national one, the Jimmy Garoppolo trade happened because Brady made it clear he wanted Kraft to choose.

For Brady to experience a change of heart just a few months later could cause the franchise lasting damage. We always knew finding the next guy would be a challenge, but Brady's "play 'til I'm 45" mantra seemingly bought the organization time.

Now it feels like we're looking at one year, maybe two, and then the start of a long-awaited rebuild that'll have the schadenfreudeinistas gurgling with delight. For Brady suddenly to decide it's not worth the familial sacrifices he's making feels like information that could've been shared around Halloween, when a mopey Belichick sent Jimmy G. to the 49ers like a kid kicking a Fanta can down the sidewalk.

Now the two camps feel like they're at war, and those usually end with a winner and a loser. As much as Brady has meant to the franchise since 2001, Belichick holds the key to the future -- provided all of this drama doesn't chase him away, too.

So in this conflict between two franchise icons, put me on Team Belichick. There's no middle ground. It's one or the other.

Where do you fall?

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