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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick Don't Need to Be Close for the Patriots to Win

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 4, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Head Coach Bill Belichick looks on as Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks by during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The first sign there was trouble in the Super Bowl factory came in January. That's when a bombshell report by ESPN's Seth Wickersham hit.

It was an explosive story. It stated there were rifts between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. It suggested that last season, which ended in a Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, might be the last one together for the group.

The Patriots forcefully pushed back against the story. The team released a statement denying any tensions between the group, which read in part: "For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship. In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate."

What we have come to understand since is that the story was accurate, or at least mostly so. Wickersham got it right.

When sportscaster Jim Gray this week asked Brady if he felt appreciated by his bosses, Brady gave, for one of the first times ever, a completely transparent response. That wasn't by accident.

"I plead the Fifth," Brady said at the Milken Institute Global Conference. "Man, that is a tough question. Yeah, I mean, they appreciate...I think everybody in general wants to be appreciated more at work."

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Tom Brady was asked today at the Milken Institute Global Conference if he feels appreciated by the Patriots. His response: "I plead the 5th..." https://t.co/8Tl6k5emj9

Brady added that Belichick is not only the "best coach in the history of the NFL" but also "the best for me" because Belichick maximizes talent.

"There's no people I'd rather play for or be committed to than the team that I've been with for a long time," Brady said.

Few players have mastered the art of saying nothing like Brady. The "plead the Fifth" part was purposeful.

So, what does this all mean?

Absolutely nothing.

Not a damn thing.

Whatever the current dispute or division, it means nothing.

The truth is, as one Patriots player told me this week and another former player confirmed, there have been issues—both players called them minor—between Brady and Belichick for at least five years. They just haven't entered the public sphere. Or kept the Patriots from winning their division every year or going to the Super Bowl three of the past four.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The issues Brady and Belichick have are typical for any two people who have had a highly productive relationship but have been around each other as much as they have. The edges are frayed.

Sometimes those types of things escalate, but more often they're just cyclical. Especially when the two depend on each other for continued success.

Could it be that this is the year all of this does matter, and I'm wrong when I say none of it does? Sure, it's always possible. But I doubt it.

There's also the stark difference between how the two men approach life. Brady may seem like a robot, but he's passionate. It's why you often see him screaming and fiery.

Brady still sees himself as that player who was snubbed by the NFL and drafted in the sixth round. It's still his motivation, his warp core. In many ways, Brady, who has played 18 seasons and in eight Super Bowls, is a man who is all heart and emo wrapped in an indestructible shell.

Belichick is the opposite. He's an android. Cold and calculating. This isn't a bad thing. In many ways, it's what a coach should be.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

But the emotional quarterback and the man with the positronic brain are bound to irritate each other over time. 

And that's what's happening.

Again, though, it means nothing.

They will keep winning the AFC and reaching Super Bowls as long as Brady can still play, and there's little indication he's going to slow down any time soon.

This is hardly the first time a coach and quarterback haven't gotten along. John Elway and coach Dan Reeves despised each other but still went to three Super Bowls together. Terry Bradshaw hated Chuck Noll, and they won four titles.

"I will not talk about him after this interview, OK?" Bradshaw said in the NFL Network's A Football Life: Chuck Noll documentary. "Did I respect him? Of course I did. Like him? No, I didn't like him."

One of the best quotes that applies to Brady-Belichick actually comes from a Cowboys player in the 1970s who was asked to describe the relationship between Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. Landry was a stone-faced Belichick before Belichick.

"Tom punches the computer, calls the play, does everything but hand the ball off," said guard John Niland in 1978. "And Roger is a great lieutenant."

In this case, Belichick is the computer, and Brady is the lieutenant. They are the best duo in NFL history.

And it doesn't matter if they don't always get along.

                    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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