Tom Brady has been/is/will be the greatest quarterback in the history of the New England Patriots.
There is no debate. There is no "next Tom Brady." There is no "just as good as Brady" anywhere on the Patriots' horizon. He is it. He is also 36. His biological clock roared into overdrive at 4 p.m. on Monday when the NFL free-agency period and fiscal year began.
The arrival of 4 p.m. meant the departure of Julian Edelman. Edelman is a free-agent, testing the market, to see which team will embarrass the Patriots by taking away Brady's latest favorite target. There isn't a lot of interest in Edelman, at least according to NFL State Run Media, the best of New England's resident "Hobbits" last season. But it doesn't take 31 NFL teams to rid New England of its most prolific receiver in 2013, it just takes one.
Of course, the Patriots shafted Brady in the same way last year, when they let NFL pennies and petty personal differences push Wes Welker to Denver. Welker won that deal the second he KO'd Aqib Talib in the AFC title game. The Patriots likely would have been thrashed by the Seattle team that showed up in the February warmth of Met Life Stadium. But it would have been nice to see how they could have fared against Pete Carroll's defense, as opposed to watch the Patriots fizzle against Peyton Manning and the Broncos two weeks earlier.
I watched Super Bowl XX in Chicago. Watching a lopsided loss to the Seahawks from home would not have come close to that behind-the-lines trauma.
Meanwhile, the Broncos kept piling on the Patriots by landing Talib, reportedly to a six-year, $57 million deal. That blew away any "reported" offer the Patriots were waving at him. Score another one for position value. The Broncos also have a Hall of Fame QB approaching the end of his career and appear hell bent on doing whatever it takes to get him back to the Super Bowl. Must be nice.
The Broncos swiped one of the New England's key players in Talib, got themselves a quality player at a key position and drove up the Patriots' cost to replace him. That's a win-win-win. They are not thinking about 2020, they are thinking about Peyton Manning's second ring. By 2020, they'll likely be battling the Patriots for the No. 1 pick and the rights to draft some future Russell Wilson who is now in 10th grade. Don't fret, if the Patriots counter by picking up Darrelle Revis, there will be no banks broken in that process, given the team's profitability and Kraft's wealth.
Heading into January's AFC title game, the two most important players on the Patriots who didn't answer to the name "TB 12" or "Gisele's Husband" were Talib and Edelman. Talib is gone and Edelman is contractually bound to the team and are free to sign with any football team, including Manchester United or Liverpool.
There was a lot of flurry and bluster put forth on the interwebs about how much the Patriots' are spending or not spending, but the bottom line is this: The Patriots were $4,106,801 under the salary cap in 2013 and have another $2,002,250 to carry over in 2014.
These are numbers from the NFLPA via USA Today, so take their agenda into play here. But the numbers tell a story that's becoming all too familiar: "The Patriots are becoming penny and nickle wise and million-dollar foolish." Why, with Brady drifting at increasing speed toward taking up full-time residence in his palace in Pacific Palisades, would they ever be $4 under the salary cap, never mind $4.1 million?
Most of life comes down to money. The NFL is no different. A trained monkey could make money running an NFL franchise [just watch Jim Irsay on TV or check out his Twitter feed if you doubt this], given the guaranteed revenue tsunami from TV and the percentage cap on player salaries.
I didn't break the bank,millions cash over cap/Load Brinks Truck,only to be hijacked n stormed on the way 2 stadium by machine gun MANIACS!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) November 26, 2013
Speaking of Twitter, it's interesting how players like Edelman [@Edelman11] who love to Tweet about TV shows or their morning meal, go under radio silence when we'd like to hear from them the most.
Kraft is no Jim Irsay. He is a pecunious and charitable business man. He didn't become a billionaire by spending money. He did so by making and investing it. Guaranteeing Brady his favorite receiver two years in a row does not fit into that equation. Sagaciousness and thrift trump going all-out to make the football face on New England's Sports Mount Rushmore have his most desirable target who is not on IR or in jail.
Why did the Patriots lose Welker a year ago? Why are in they the process of losing Edelman? There's ample blame to go around. Belichick buys the groceries but Bob Kraft draws up the budget and pays the cashier. The litany of botched off-season free-agent and trade acquisitions for the Patriots in recent years has been an embarrassment of embarrassments, most recently with Danny Amendola. But, the Patriots would not have been pressed into signing Amendola to a five-year, $28 million deal that carries a $4.7 million cap hit in 2014 had they not bungled Welker's situation.
Swear this is true: On my Smartphone, "Amendola" auto-corrects to "Mendoza" - as in "line." That phone is a freaking genius.
Tuesday, we were told the Patriots offered Edelman a three-year deal with a 4 p.m. deadline. And we were told that Edelman's "people" rejected it because it did not approach their view of his market value and they didn't like the whole deadline thing.
This is the much-feared sequel to "The Wes Welker Story" that played out in these parts a year ago. Edelman won't end up in Denver, but there are plenty of AFC teams that would love to take away Brady's favorite 2013 target in 2014, just like the Broncos took away Brady's favorite 2012 target in 2013.
The adherence to the Kraft's "player-value" spreadsheet and the necessity to kiss Lord Vader's Ring will not be a concern to any of Edelman's suitors.
The Patriot Way trumps all at Patriot Place - including rings and trophies. Winning is the goal, but only within the system. The system, and dealing within the system, is the most important thing. The art of the deal often trumps the deal itself. For instance, Edelman, like Welker and Amendola, is a slot receiver. There is "X" amount of dollars available for slot receivers in the Patriot Way of things. That money is either going to Edelman or Amendola. It appears more like Amendola at this point.
Long live the system, even if Brady turns 37 in August.
Brady demonstrated his real feelings and faith in Amendola during the AFC title game:
D.Amendola: 1 0 0 0.0 0 0
Word "leaked out" that Brady and Edelman were reportedly playing catch together in California on Monday. The 4 p.m. deadline the Patriots gave him on Tuesday coincided with a roster bonus due to Amendola. It was apparently an "either or" situation. If the Patriots do sign Edelman, it will be for less than what he feels he deserves, which means it probably won't happen.
Edelman more than any other player on the Patriots consistently demonstrated succes by being the "next man up." He led the Patriots with 105 catches, 1,056 yards receiving and six TD receptions. This was after Brady had to basically start from scratch with him as his binky after the departure/injuries/arrest endured by Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The once-hailed Patriots two-tight end offensive system has been relegated to the ash-heap of history and criminal charges levied against Hernandez. It needed Gronk and Hernandez.. Not Gronk and Fill-In-The Blank. Gronkowski is never 100 percent even when he's 100 percent. His all-out style of play and physical make-up make him injury prone and not likely to play 16 games in a season.
Whatever salary difference that existed between the Patriots and Edelman at 3:59 p.m. Tuesday was not enough to push the Patriots over any cap, real or imagined, nor would it have pushed the Kraft Family one millimeter closer to financial insolvency. The Kraft Family with a little help from Belichick has done a brilliant job running the Patriots. They tuened around a team that almost left town twice in the 1990s and was a running joke for four decades, into a model franchise and the envy of pro sports. The Krafts also obliterated perhaps the worst "modern" NFL stadium ever and replaced it with a palace.
Kudos and love for all they accomplished and for building a team that's compiled the best NFL's best win-loss record since 2001. But no system is perfect, at least when it comes to winning Super Bowls since the dawn of George W. Bush's second term. And this isn't about past history, it's about making history one more time before Brady leaves the field for good.
Bob Kraft wants to win, who doesn't? But how exactly is "winning" defined in his world?
Speaking in New York before the Super Bowl, Kraft offered this definition to 98.5 The Sports Hub "Felger and Mazz:"
"There's nothing more important to me personally than winning as many championships as we can win while the good Lord lets me be on this planet. You can gear up, [but] I think a better strategy is to try to be solid and compete year in and year out. " We want to be in the running and do whatever we can to be the best we can be ... We're trying to manage our resources as wisely as we can and be as aggressive as we can, but making sure every year we put ourselves in the best position to win. I feel that urgency to win every year. We've been in the conference championship game the last three years in a row. We didn't play well in the last game we played this year. It's unfortunate. It just didn't come together."
Translation: We'll never change.
This sounds great in the abstract and during lectures in the owner's box. But the Patriots are at a unique time in their history. Brady's days have never been fewer than they will be during Week 1 this season, and in Week 2, and so on. The glass is more chipped than half-empty.
Then there's that whole "Brady contract restructure" thing. Whatever happened to that money, anyway? It's probably on Ricki Noel Lander's fingers or wrapped in gold around her neck.
The biggest knock on Brady remains that he hasn't won a fourth Super Bowl. I'll keep typing that line until John W. Henry gives me my unconditional release. Brady deserves and has earned the comfort of Binky Consistency, especially since he went through the same withdrawal a year ago. Brady is pretty good but even he can't be expected to be on his game in January when he has to spend much of September, October and November riding a learning curve with his receivers.
Fast forward to the 2018 season. Imagine Gillette Stadium is three-quarters full during a frigid late-season game against the Bills in the first year of the post-Brady era. The game is blacked out on local TV as the 6-8 Patriots wallow in third place. Kraft looks out from his owner's suite and sees three Super Bowl banners waving in the Polar Vortek-powered breeze. Belichick scowls into his headphones, marking up his notes and wondering which former Rutgers Scarlet Knight he can start as QB the second half.
Kraft doesn't have to think about that missing fourth banner. Rather, he's fully comfortable knowing that he maximized value better than anyone.
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