ESPN is Tanking So They Went to the Well: Drag The Patriots Through The Mud

On January 5th, 2018, ESPN dropped a bombshell “hit piece,” with no bomb, that chronicles an alleged rift between the Patriots’ power trio of Brady, Belichick and Kraft.  The article has no on the record quotes, it depicts division centered around Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero, states Kraft gave Belichick a mandate to trade Garoppolo (possibly as a result of Brady going over Belichick’s head), and fails to comprehend the easily explainable.

In case you hadn’t heard, ESPN isn’t doing very well.  The company has lost nearly 13 million subscribers and is looking at making less than $2 billion dollars only 3 years after raking in $6.4 billion.  I am not going to get into the causation of ESPN’s decline, but I want to establish the fact that ESPN has seen better days.

I will say though, one factor in their declining viewership is that instead of providing highlights, analysis, and reporting on practical matters, ESPN has turned into a gossip entity for the sports world.  Consider that Jon Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to return to the Oakland Raiders, a team he coached and then beat in the Super Bowl, the same day the Patriots story was released, and the main story on ESPN’s NFL page is still the he-said-she-said Patriots article.

One day before ESPN’s bombshell with no punch hit the internet, Ramona Shelburne took a shot at Tom Brady from literally out of nowhere.  While promoting an article she co-authored about Paul George, Brian Shaw, and alleged tampering committed by the Los Angeles Lakers, Shelburne makes everyone remember that once upon a time Tom Brady was public enemy number one.  Maybe it was just click bait and maybe she was attempting to grab everyone’s attention.  However, the timing is still rather curious.  And don’t worry, Shelbourne promoted the Patriots article Friday morning.

Speaking of the Deflategate saga, ESPN, to this day, has Chris Mortensen’s report that 11/12 were under-inflated up-to 2 pounds per square inch up on their site, when, in fact, not a single ball was that under-inflated.

So here we are, again, in 2018, and ESPN is writing reports about how it’s terrible times over at 1 Patriot Place, Foxoborough, MA.  New Year, New Me, said ESPN never.

So what did Seth Wickersham actually write?  Glad you asked.

One pillar of the article is that the Patriots were confused and conflicted on how to proceed as an organization with a 40-year old quarterback.  Given that there is no precedent for a 40-year old quarterback playing at a high level, this really isn’t very ground-breaking stuff.  Brady just re-wrote the record book on what quarterbacks can do at his age, and it is “more probable than not” that he wins MVP.

The Patriots entered the season with Brady, Garoppolo, and Brissett on the roster.  After the trade deadline, only Brady remained.  Wickersham posits “why would the game’s shrewdest long-term strategist trade two backup quarterbacks in a two-month span when his starter was 40-years-old and banged up?”  The answer is because his question is asked with absolutely no context.

Five days before the regular season began the Patriots traded Brissett to the Colts.  First, and most obviously, Brady was not banged up when the regular season began.  Next, no one ever considered Brissett an integral part of the future.  The debate was how to handle a transition from Brady to Garoppolo at the appropriate time.

Additionally, since Wickersham can’t seem to remember, the Patriots lost Julian Edelman to a torn ACL during the preseason, and put Malcolm Mitchell on I.R. September 7th, after a knee issue had limited him through training and the preseason, so the Patriots weren’t blind sided by the development.  This created a need to obtain a receiver, which the Patriots did by getting Phillip Dorsett as the return asset in the Brissett trade.

As for trading Garoppolo, we already know why they did it.  The Patriots refused to trade him ahead of the season because they wanted to see what Brady looked like in his age 40 season, or in case of emergency if Brady got hurt.  Brady ripped off MVP performance after MVP performance ahead of the trade deadline, easing concerns about him falling off a cliff.  But, still, long-term, it would be nice to have Garoppolo as the heir to Brady, right?

Of course, but that was never realistic.  Wickersham states in his article that “{t}he Patriots repeatedly offered Garoppolo four-year contract extensions, in the $17 million to $18 million range annually that would go higher if and when he succeeded Brady. Garoppolo and Yee rejected the offers out of hand, for reasons that remain unclear, and the Patriots knew they couldn’t make any promises to Garoppolo about the timing of a transition at quarterback without it getting back to Brady.”

“Reasons that remain unclear,” eh?  How much clearer could these reasons be?  Wickersham answers one of them himself.  The Patriots couldn’t make any promises to Garoppolo about the timing of a quarterback transition.  So, Garoppolo’s options were either be a backup for an unknown amount of time at $17 million annually, or go elsewhere and be a starter immediately for roughly $25 million annually.  Yea, super unclear why Garoppolo and Yee rejected those offers (it’s been disputed if they were even extended).  Yee also is the agent for both Garoppolo and Tom Brady, which Wickersham knows.  I think anyone would be hard pressed to find an agent that wants to see both of his starting caliber quarterbacks on the same team.  Yea, real 8th wonder of the world type stuff here why Garoppolo declined those  alleged offers.

And the whole “most shrewed long-term strategist,” thing still works here.  Remember when Belichick traded Jamie Collins ahead of his free agency so he could bump the draft pick he would receive for Collins up a year?  Remember when Belichick traded dynasty stalwart Richard Seymour ahead of Seymour’s final season under contract?  Everyone forgets that Belichick included red-zone GOAT Mike Vrable in the Matt Cassel trade.  How about shipping out Logan Mankins after seven seasons with the team that drafted him?

And everyone out there crying about how Belichick got ripped off in the Garoppolo trade and how it makes no sense because Belichick doesn’t lose trades like this — I’m calling hindsight bias.  What were you expecting teams to pony up for a quarterback that had played a total of six quarters in his career, got hurt, and was a pending free agent?  I agree that his market value should have been higher, but at the time the Patriots were getting what looked to be a high second round pick, which have proven to be the most valuable picks.

And no, Belichick taking less than perceived value in a trade is not unprecedented.  Remember when Belichick traded Chandler Jones for the 61st pick and Jonathan Cooper ahead of Jones’ contract year?  The market on trading All-Pro level defensive ends had already been set.  In 2008 the Chiefs traded Jared Allen to the Vikings for the 17th overall pick and two 3rd round selections.  So, yes, Belichick does take back less value than the outside world considers optimal.

Also, had Garoppolo just walked in free agency, the Patriots at maximum would have received the top compensatory pick, 97th overall.  The trade netted them the 43rd pick.

What makes this report not credible to me is that after admitting Belichick is “famously secretive,” Wickersham gets intimate details on private meetings involving Belichick and Belichick’s resulting feelings.  Wickersham cites a private meeting between Belichick and Kraft two weeks ahead of the trade deadline, and the topic of conversation was the quarterback situation: “The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him.”  The details of a private meeting involving the “famously secretive” Belichick, where for the first time in the Kraft-Belichick era Kraft stepped in to intervene in a football decision, found their way into the hands of the media?

Not buying it.  A conversation with Kraft involving how to handle the future of Brady and Garoppolo where Kraft takes a hard stance that he is siding with Brady and Belichick just needs to “do his job,” was not talked about by Bill Belichick to anyone.  Nope.  As for Kraft, he is too smart to discuss the details of that meeting with anyone other than his son (if he even did that), who in turn would not let the details come into possession of anyone else.  The Patriots are the most tight-lipped organization in sports.  Nothing comes out of New England.  Even after guys leave nothing comes out of New England.  But sure, Wickersham totally knows what Belichick and Kraft talk about behind closed doors.

Apparently the result of that meeting with Kraft left Belichick “furious and demoralized, according to friends.”  Does Belichick strike you as the type of guy that even has friends?  I’m sure he does, but is he really saying to them “yea I had this terrible meeting with Mr. Kraft where he demanded I trade Garoppolo because he wants to let Tom play well into his 40’s,”?  Does this really sound plausible to you?

To aid in depicting the inevitable internal destruction, Wickersham talks about how “{t}hose interviewed describe a lingering sadness around the team, as if coaches and staff know that the end might be near. Both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are expected to become head coaches; other assistant coaches might leave to join their staffs or for college jobs, or even retire.”

Because this is so unusual.  Coordinators and assistant coaches from successful teams never end up taking on larger roles in other organizations.  McDaniels has been one of the hottest coordinator names to become a head coach for a few years now.  You can’t take something totally normal and completely expected and use it to help exacerbate a narrative that serves your personal interest.

Earlier today on First Take, Max Kellerman was giving a live audition for a job at FS1 as he screamed at the top of his lungs how Brady is finished and trading Garoppolo is the worst trade of all time.  I am no Stephen A. fan, but he sat there listening to Kellerman with the exact same expression I had on my face while reading Wickersham’s article:

patriots brady belichick kraft
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