Tom Brady considered leaving the Patriots after tension boiled over with Bill Belichick

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have combined for five Super Bowl rings and made the New England Patriots the millennium’s premier NFL franchise. But that doesn’t mean the relationship between the two is all smiles and sunshine.

In fact, according to a new book from ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, Belichick’s treatment had Brady considering his exit from the team earlier this year.

“Tom knows Bill is the best coach in the league, but he’s had enough of him. If Tom could, I think he would divorce him,” O’Connor wrote.

“But in the end, even if he wanted to, Brady could not walk away from the game, and he could not ask for a trade. The moment Belichick moved [backup quarterback Jimmy] Garoppolo to San Francisco, and banked on Brady’s oft-stated desire to play at least into his mid-forties, was the moment Brady was virtually locked into suiting up next season and beyond. Had he retired or requested a trade, he would have risked turning an adoring New England public into an angry mob.”

The excerpt lines up with reports of tension between Brady, Belichick, and team owner Bob Kraft that boiled to the surface of the 2017 season, most famously in a deep dive from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. The three-time MVP saw his personal trainer Alex Guerrero exiled from official team activities as a quiet power struggle grew internally between two of football’s most accomplished individuals. When Brady was asked this offseason whether he felt Belichick and Kraft had showed him a proper amount of appreciation for his role turning the franchise into a powerhouse, he sidestepped the question.

“I plead the fifth,” said Brady, albeit playfully. “Man, that is a tough question.”

Although the two sides had their issues this offseason, Brady and Belichick worked to maintain their working relationship as the 2018 regular season approached. Guerrero was allowed to return to the team’s flights and had some of his sideline access restored, and the Patriots rolled into Week 1 with a typical steely resolve.

While players across the facility, including James Harrison and Danny Amendola, who were already former Patriots by then, denied there was any fire behind the rising smoke of Wickersham’s report, O’Connor’s book — which is sourced from more than 300 interviews but does not include quotes from Belichick — suggests the tension between the legendary duo was real.

Brady had a point when considering his future with the team

A sticking point in O’Connor’s book is Brady’s belief the team was going to move on from him once he’d begun to decline. Or, as his sister Nancy reportedly told people, that “Belichick will definitely do to him someday what the Colts did to Peyton [Manning].”

In the lead up to last year’s trade of Garoppolo, this was an absolutely valid concern.

Garoppolo was about 15 years younger than his mentor and had put together a 2-0 campaign as the team’s fill-in starter while Brady served half his 2016 Deflategate suspension. He was pegged as a rising star in the league, but just needed an opportunity to step into the spotlight. Trading Brady would clear that spot, bring back some major assets to New England, and fit right in with the team’s roster-building philosophy.

A major aspect of Belichick’s ability to sustain a winning team has been a complete lack of sentimentality. He’s shown no aversion to trading longtime veterans when he decides they’ve outlasted their usefulness but still carry some value thanks to their reputations. It’s a move the NFL has seen time and time again.

One of Belichick’s first big trades in New England was to ship Terry Glenn to Green Bay for a fourth-round pick. Mike Vrabel was moved alongside Matt Cassel in a 2009 deal with the Chiefs. All-Pro Richard Seymour was sold off to the Raiders later that year in exchange for a first-rounder.

And, most importantly, when Brady emerged from the ether to lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win during the 2001 season, Belichick traded Drew Bledsoe to the Bills for a first-round selection that offseason.

Trading the winningest quarterback in league history was no pipe dream for the Patriots — that is, until Belichick sold low on Garoppolo and gave the 49ers a deal on their current franchise quarterback. And if O’Connor’s excerpts are to be believed, it was also a move that kept the weight of a franchise on Brady’s shoulders and helped convince him to stick to his word and play into his mid-40s.

So while Belichick may not have gotten the monster return a nine-figure quarterback like Garoppolo would typically demand, he may have gotten something even better in the deal — the leverage to keep a surefire Hall of Famer behind center in 2018 and beyond.

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