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Bill Belichick called Tom Brady 'iconic,' but it's no guarantee that the QB will return to New England

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In the wake of a rare early playoff defeat for the New England PatriotsTom Brady made it clear late Saturday night that he wasn’t planning on retiring at the age of 42. Additionally, despite being a free agent come March, he expressed that re-signing with the Patriots for a 21st season was not just a possibility, but perhaps the preferred choice. 

“I love the Patriots,” Brady said. “They obviously [are] the greatest organization and playing for Mr. Kraft all these years and Coach Belichick, nobody has had a better career, I would say, than me, just being with them. So, I’m very blessed. I don’t know what the future looks like and I am not going to predict it.”

On Sunday morning, Bill Belichick, who along with team owner Robert Kraft is one of the two men who will play the biggest role in hashing out Brady’s future, declined to make such a commitment to his quarterback. 

Tom Brady sounded like he had no intention of calling it a career after losing to the Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

In fairness though, less than 12 hours after the Pats’ 20-13 defeat to Tennessee, he wasn’t willing to commit to much of anything.

“The future is the future,” Belichick said, in some iteration, over and over. 

So welcome to “As the Foxborough Turns,” an offseason soap opera sure to dominate local discussions and media coverage, all with the NFL’s only six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback swinging in the balance.

In constructing a dynasty here over the past two decades, Belichick is famous for moving on from any player he deems replaceable or a distraction. Yet as big or as talented as Ty Law, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Chandler Jones or others have been around here, there is but one Tom Brady. 

Right?

“Certainly, Tom’s an iconic figure in this organization,” Belichick said, about the only distinction he gave to the quarterback. “Nobody respects Tom more than I do.”

That was a wink of praise. Yet he was quickly back to pegging Brady as just another cog in the Patriots machine, no more important (despite his stature in the franchise and his position on the field) than anyone else. 

“I respect all the other players and all the other coaches in this organization too,” Belichick said. “Everybody who is a part of it is an important part of it. I want to give the proper attention and communication and detail and thought on my input into those decisions.”

Is there a timetable to begin thinking about Brady, Belichick was asked. 

“No,” Belichick said. 

He essentially brushed off all follow-ups about Brady.

“Honestly, look, I know it’s out there like a lot of things are out there,” Belichick said. “We could bring up 50 questions just like that one and I told you my [answer] on them. You can ask all 50 of them and it’s going to be the same answer … I’m not going to talk a lot about the future because I’m not prepared to talk about it.”

Could Belichick really move on from Tom Brady? Would Kraft even allow it? Is there even a better option that can improve the team? The offense was lousy by New England’s standards this season and scoring just 13 points against the Titans doomed the Patriots in a game they should have won.

Yet Brady wasn’t the sole reason for the failure. He was decent on Saturday night and his lack of a supporting cast was apparent in myriad plays that led to the loss. 

For Brady, the decision to return isn’t simply about the Patriots offering a deal at an agreeable amount of money. After all these years, like any longtime employee at any company, there is a sense of ownership in the cause Brady feels that just isn’t comparable to a first-year free-agent signing. 

It’s similar to why law or accounting firms make partners out of longstanding and high-performing employees. The dynamics change. It’s human nature. 

Does Belichick involve Brady more in roster construction – at least hearing out his opinions? Game plans? Coaching hires? Anything? No one outside of the team truly knows the extent of their cooperation now, so everything is uncertain. 

Acknowledging Brady is an iconic figure was a step by Belichick to admitting that this situation is different than general roster management. Yet claiming he was so focused on planning for various games all season that he hasn’t thought about Brady’s future was a mixed message. It is very common for professional sports teams to lock up rosters in advance. 

Belichick wasn’t ruling anything out. He was hardly commenting on anything, really. He did note it wouldn’t all be his choice, although how much Kraft (or others) factor in here remains to be seen.

“Those are collective decisions that are not made by one person,” Belichick said. “They are made collectively. There is a lot of time and thought and effort that goes into that. Now isn’t the time.”

A day after the defeat of one of the worst and undermanned Patriots teams he’s ever been on (and he still won 12 games and the AFC East, mind you), Tom Brady’s future in Foxborough was no clearer. 

Brady seems to want to stay. Will the rigid Pats bend enough to keep their icon? Or could Belichick pull his most cold-blooded move ever, and let Tom Brady walk out the door for the so-called “best interests of the team”?

“All the future questions are the future,” Belichick noted. 

True.

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