There has reportedly been tension within the New England Patriots' ranks as they have attempted to defend their Super Bowl title this season.
Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com published a lengthy expose Friday regarding New England and the power struggles between five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
Of note, Wickersham said Brady "is famously unhelpful toward his backups" and offered little in terms of advice to Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick, although Wickersham's article reveals Belichick did not want to move the 26-year-old signal-caller but only did so after Kraft told him to in a meeting before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.
The trade was a success for the 49ers, who won their final five games of the season with him under center and may have found a franchise quarterback if they can re-sign him this offseason.
However, it was easy to envision Garoppolo as the natural successor to Brady not long ago, especially after the franchise used a second-round pick on him in 2014. While there is no debating Brady's place as one of the best quarterbacks of all time, he is 40 years old and could retire in the immediate future.
Having Garoppolo would have given Belichick a backup option, and Wickersham even said 2018 appeared to be "a key year" for the Patriots after they negotiated a two-year contract with Brady in 2016.
"The team could, in theory, look at a 41-year-old Brady and his $22 million cap hit and decide if it made sense to transition to Garoppolo," Wickersham wrote.
However, the article explained Brady has "grown to the point that he was considered management" following New England's most recent Super Bowl title and met with Kraft a number of times in October to discuss continuing his career.
According to Wickersham, Belichick was "skeptical" of giving Brady a long-term extension even though he understood how important he was to the organization and "had always insisted privately that he wouldn't move on from Brady unless he could convince the coaching staff of it."
It created a predicament for the organization, considering Garoppolo was set to be a free agent following the 2017 campaign. What's more, Belichick already traded third-stringer Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts, and one person within the organization said, "If we trade Jimmy, we're the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan."
However, the trade came, and one Patriots staffer was quoted in Wickersham's article as saying Brady "won" with Kraft finishing in his "corner."
Despite the tension, Wickersham explained Belichick "has taken a longer view" by setting up interviews for his assistants, mending a relationship with the Colts because of the Brissett trade, becoming friends with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and even taking "pride" in Garoppolo's quick start in San Francisco.
It all combines to create a fascinating subplot with the NFL playoffs beginning Saturday. The 13-3 Patriots are looking for their sixth Super Bowl title with Brady under center, but the long-term sustainability of the dynasty may be teetering somewhat without an established backup plan behind No. 12 when he does finally call it quits.