It wouldn’t be a Patriots march to the Super Bowl without some sort of distraction raining down on the organization.
There’s no “-gate” suffix being tagged on to the latest installment of the series, where an ESPN story from last Friday suggested that this could be the final season together for Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady. Several factors make up the crux of the issue, namely the circumstances behind the midseason trade of Jimmy Garoppolo and the presence of Brady’s lifestyle guru Alex Guerrero.
Belichick spent the morning snuffing out the flames in a conference call with reporters, offering little in regards to the report that there was a mandate from Kraft to trade Garoppolo. But he also provided some insight into his perhaps murky future with New England.
“I’ve already commented at length about that situation,” Belichick said of Garoppolo’s trade to San Francisco on Oct. 31 for a 2018 second-round draft pick. “Nothing has happened since then, so I don’t have anything to add to it.”
Asked if there was any truth to a New York Daily News report that Belichick had interest in becoming head coach of the New York Giants, a position which remains vacant, Belichick reminded reporters that the Patriots do, in fact, have a divisional round playoff game this Saturday.
“Right now, my interest is trying to do the best I can for our football team to get ready for Saturday night against Tennessee,” he said. “That’s where my total focus is.”
But is it his intention to definitely be back with the Patriots next season?
“Absolutely,” Belichick said.
Later in the day, appearing on WEEI’s “Dale, Holley & Keefe” program, Belichick continued to refute the ESPN report by saying that he had a “great” relationship with both Brady and Kraft, each of whom he’s worked with for nearly two decades.
“I would throw in there, since it was a part of the article, I feel like I have a good relationship with Alex [Guerrero], too,” Belichick said.
The coach said both on his morning conference call and on Dale, Holley & Keefe that he had not yet read the ESPN story, authored by Seth Wickersham. Asked why he felt compelled to be part of a joint statement issued by himself, Brady and Kraft on Friday afternoon, Belichick said that he’d been informed of the article’s contents and “based on some quotes and some things that were pointed out that I felt were inaccurate,” felt the need to make clear he was 100 percent with Kraft and Brady.
Reaction in the locker room, filled with many players who have never had a coach other than Belichick in the NFL, was, for the most part, a series of deflections.
“We play Tennessee this week,” Malcolm Butler said after laughing off the question of Belichick potentially going to the Giants.
“I’m not too worried about that right now,” LaAdrian Waddle said of the future. “I’m just worried about the Titans.”
Patrick Chung, for one, seemed rather stoked when he heard that Belichick was “absolutely” planning on returning in 2018.
“(Expletive), I’m juiced,” Chung said. “Keep coming back, man. When he’s done, I’ll be done, too.”
Distractions are nothing new in New England, especially in recent years with the DeflateGate saga that dragged on for nearly 19 months. From the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Colts to Brady – reluctantly – accepting his four-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season, players became well-versed in handling noise from the outside.
Matthew Slater, the third-longest tenured member of the Patriots’ roster at 10 seasons, said it was the leadership of the team that’s enabled it to withstand the noise and perhaps even turn it into a rallying cry.
“Coach Belichick has always led us in a way that’s been very direct and to the point,” Slater said. “[He’s] very focused on the task at hand and being able to live in the moment and take things day by day. The leadership, combined with the mentality of the men we’ve had around here in my time has been tremendous. That helps you live in the now, focus on things day by day, focus on the things that you can control and take it from there.”
Brady did not speak with reporters on Monday – he’ll speak later this week – but he did offer some clues as to what his line of thinking maybe with a post on his Instagram page.
“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm’-Unknown,” Brady wrote as a caption. The picture is of Brady and the Patriots playing in the fog against the Atlanta Falcons earlier this season.