The Replacing of a Legend: Tom Brady's Last Hurrah in New England

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The Replacing of a Legend: Tom Brady's Last Hurrah in New England
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks to his team during the fourth quarter of the game against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won the game 31-27. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

At first glance, this title and subject matter seem so ridiculous it is not worth giving a second thought. A player coming off an MVP season cannot possibly be on his way out. Then one begins to think what possible or better yet plausible explanation could be used to justify the release or trade of Tom Brady.

Well, my cynical friends, there are several of them. However, before we venture there, let us first dispel some the rhetoric that is sure to be spewed my way. Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. His greatness is not defined by bringing his team back from a fourth-quarter Super Bowl deficit and leading them to a title-clinching touchdown. Rather his greatness is defined by putting his team in the best position to be successful.

As ESPN personality Rob Parker once said, “There is no Tom Brady Super Bowl highlight that does not include Adam Vinatieri.” Let us go one step further, when Brady was asked to lead the Patriots to a game-tying field goal in Super Bowl XLII Brady failed. Now his failure to do this does not make him a bad quarterback; it does however remove the indestructible allure that surrounds him.

The man who threw 50 touchdowns in the regular season was on the cusp of being mentioned as the greatest to ever do it. He was going up against a Giants defense that was ranked 11th in defending the pass and did not appear equipped to handle the Brady-to-Moss combination. More importantly Brady was set to carve his name among the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks. One touchdown, a 17-14 loss, and four seasons later, Brady is no longer teetering on NFL immortality; he is simply attempting to reclaim the postseason “glow” that he once possessed.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots gets up after being sacked by Drew Coleman #30 of the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Since that ill-fated Sunday afternoon, Brady is 0-2 in playoff games, and it has become evident that he can no longer carry the Patriots offense to a championship. The QB has not had a 300-yard postseason passing performance since a 2005 divisional round matchup against the Denver Broncos, a game they lost 27-13.

Since that game Brady has thrown 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in eight postseason contests. You compare that to 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions leading up to 2005 in a total of 11 postseason contests and this story’s title becomes a little less convoluted.

If this has not gotten lost on a Dick Schaap and Ed Gordon wannabe, then we know it has not escaped the meticulous eye of one Bill Belichick. The same coach Belichick who released Cleveland Browns legend Bernie Kosar and stated PUBLICLY it was because of Kosar’s diminishing skills. The coach has proved he is not above releasing anyone.

Belichick for all his faults is a man’s man. He does not dabble in the game of feelings and his loyalty is to perfection and not personnel. In Cleveland, Belichick ousted legend Webster Slaughter and did not even replace him with a 1,000-yard receiver the next year. That made it two Cleveland icons in Bernie Kosar and Slaughter axed in just two years. Once arriving in New England, the coach’s reputation preceded him and he did not disappoint.

He has released, traded or “failed” to re-sign Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy, Bruce Armstrong (retired upon Belichick’s arrival), Ben “Winter” Coates, Ty Law and Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri. All were multiple Pro Bowl participants and all were deemed expendable by Belichick.

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts after defeating the Buffalo Bills, 38-30, at Gillette Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The most famous or infamous player to feel Belichick’s sword was Patriot legend and icon Drew Bledsoe. The circumstances surrounding Bledsoe’s departure revolve around Tom Brady’s arrival and Belichick’s arrogance. Nevertheless, extradited was another iconic player and left standing was the man who cared little about what that player had done and more about what the next player could do.

The coach has always managed to walk through the pile he created and come through the other side smelling potpourri fresh because there was always a “Plan B” ready to become “Plan A.” It is almost like Belichick views loyalty as a female trait and avoids it at all costs. Whether the moves are emotional or financial, they all seem to pay dividends nonetheless.

To move forward from Brady, Belichick would first need indisputable evidence Brady’s skills were eroding. Though his regular-season numbers have been spectacular, it is the postseason that gains the coach’s admiration.  

Two playoff losses with a combined passer rating 69 and a completion percentage of 59.6 would provide an argument. What could solidify the argument is the Patriots being outscored 61-35 in those two losses and Brady having as many touchdowns as interceptions (four). Secondly he would need a quarterback capable of withstanding the storm that was bound to come his way for replacing a legend.

Belichick has never worked well with guys who have egos or a sense of entitlement, so it appeared extremely unlikely he would use a first round pick on a young player. No, the coach would rather go with someone who has been humbled and willing to work hard. A player who had the ability to be special and an attitude receptive to Belichick’s style of coaching were also needed attributes.

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 29: Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the New England Patriots chats with coach Bill Belichick during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 29, 2011 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

This brings us to the 2011 season and Ryan Mallett, the boy who was brought in to replace “the man.” Mallett, by all accounts, was a first-round talent who slipped to the third round because of off-the-field issues. Most draft experts had the former Razorback going as high as 15 to the Miami Dolphins. However, he slipped to third round. The chances of Belichick drafting a player of Mallett’s caliber in the first round were unlikely but in the third round were possible.

When the Pats drafted Mallett, future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner sent a text to Tom Brady regarding the selection. Brady felt compelled to inform Warner, a three-time Super Bowl participant, he planned on playing another 10 years. Brady did not say he planned on playing those 10 years with the Patriots. It could have been inferred or was it? Coach Belichick stated the Mallett selection was about depth, and as a team they must have depth at that position, which would make sense if it came from anyone else but him.

Once the rook hit the field, it was obvious he could play at the professional level, but the question is can he win? Can he make the throws necessary to compete for a championship?

At some point in the 2011 season, the coach will find out what Mallett can do when the plays matter. The audition will come either by injury or blowout, but Belichick will insert him to see what he has. Then he will move his most celebrated pupil and rebuild his kingdom from the riches he acquires. He will not wait for the world to realize he should move on rather he will strike when others think the value is too good to pass up.  

What makes Belichick different from his counterparts is for him there is always a lesson learned in defeat. So even if he loses, he wins. He learned from his tenure in Cleveland that a legend can only be replaced by an enigma capable of capturing the legend’s crown. Before Belichick, it was fashionable to believe a player could not lose his starting position due to injury, now we'll just ask Kevin Kolb if that holds true. A calculated man knows when it is time for a change.

The truth is the NFL is about the now and not about the then. Brady has played the role of Celadus for an emperor who is beholden to no gladiator. An emperor who has surrounded his most glorious gladiator with a sharper sword to see if he is capable of entertaining him one more time before he replaces him with a younger warrior capable of sustaining the Republic’s power.   

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