For years, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were the top coach and quarterback duo in the NFL. Now, however, rumors are circulating that one of the NFL's most successful marriages might be nearing its conclusion.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports speculated that Brady could end up finishing his career elsewhere if he indeed decides to play into his 40s. Per La Canfora, the New England Patriots' lack of sentimentality when it comes to retaining aging but perhaps declining veterans could be Brady's undoing.
And on Sunday, Chris Mortensen on Sunday NFL Countdown reported that there is indeed trouble in paradise, per Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com:
Several players, coaches and former players have rendered an unsettling picture that all does not look well with Tom Brady and the Patriots and there's a reason for it. Even though Bill Belichick chuckled when asked Monday night about Brady's status, others close to the team now believe that when the Patriots used that second-round pick (in 2014) on Jimmy Garropolo that they were, in fact, choosing Brady's successor, perhaps sooner than later.
Sources say Brady is uncomfortable with the personnel and coaching changes, the consequences have led to tensions between Brady and the coaching staff, with Brady's input into gameplans, personnel packages, formations, pre-snap adjustments being significantly diminished.
Mortensen later reported more on the situation in New England:
Tension exists between Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' coaching staff, and multiple sources told ESPN that they believe it could influence whether the quarterback finishes his career with the team that he has led to three Super Bowl titles.
Two sources told ESPN that former rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted as Brady's successor and the move could happen "sooner than later." No source suggested that "sooner" would mean a change during the 2014 season.
One team source told ESPN that a conservative approach is necessary and said everyone needs to be patient to allow the team and staff to get on the same page. Brady's declining performance also has been cited internally, a source told ESPN.
It's clear that the Patriots offense has been off-kilter. Once an explosive unit, the Pats are now 30th in pass offense and 23rd in run offense. They completely lack deep threats down the field and Rob Gronkowski is clearly still battling his way back from injuries.
Earlier this week, Brady admitted he could be doing better, courtesy of Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe:
I can definitely do a better job, so I think that’s what I’m trying to focus on. We’re 2-2. It’s not really where we necessarily want to be, but it’s where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of football ahead. We’re going to try to do a lot better job, all of us are.
I don’t think we should feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve always found a way to kind of grind our way through tough times.
Brady clearly hasn't been at his best either, but it's not hard to see why he might be a bit frustrated when his most reliable weapon on offense is Julian Edelman. And the fact that these sort of reports are coming out of New England—normally a very tightly run operation—suggests that the smoke in this instance is indeed indicative of a fire.
Perhaps if the Patriots begin to play better on offense in the coming weeks the fire will be put out. But for the moment, it appears there is very real tension between them and the greatest player that has ever worn their uniform.