Give Tom Brady credit; the man knows how to take the high road.
Speaking Tuesday on a conference call for the first time as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Brady had nothing but kind words and positive reflections about the Patriots and his relationships with Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft, and Bill Belichick.
“There’s nobody who’s been a bigger fan of the Patriots than me,” Brady said. “I have nothing but total respect and love, and I’m so grateful to Mr. Kraft and the organization and Coach Belichick, and all the coaches, and obviously all my teammates.”
Brady chose not to engage in a war of words with the Patriots. But some of his answers certainly gave the impression that he’s not thrilled with them, or with the narrative surrounding his departure.
The Patriots have been honoring Brady for the last week on social media, and thanked him with 12 billboards throughout New England. But Robert Kraft also has not been shy about getting out his side of the story.
Kraft has been consistent with his message since a January interview with Peter King, reiterating it several times during his interviews last week with local and national media.
Brady wanted to leave. This was his choice. We wanted him back.
“If he wanted to be here, we would have put a deal together,’’ Kraft told the Globe last week. “I expressed to him that I really hoped he could continue with us. When he called originally, I thought it was to put together a deal that would allow him to stay. But he made it clear to me he had given it a lot of thought.’’
Tuesday was the first time since January that Brady took questions from the media. I asked him straight up: Was that an accurate statement from Kraft? Was leaving New England what Brady wanted?
“Well, again, I’m not responsible for how other people will say certain things,” Brady answered.
My translation: Nope, I don’t agree with that at all.
Brady quickly transitioned to a flattering answer that didn’t really address the question. He is as composed in a news conference as he is navigating the pocket.
“I think Mr. Kraft has been a great influence on my life, and I’m so grateful for two decades, and I referenced that the other day,” Brady said. “It’s been an amazing thing for my family, and I’m sure when I’m done playing I’ll look back and have a chance to reevaluate my entire career.
“But at the same time, I’m excited for this opportunity that I have. And I can only speak to how I feel, and I wrote about that in my social media the other day. Getting to be a free agent and having the opportunity to join the Bucs was something that I was really excited about, and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
The way Brady stuttered around the question spoke volumes. I’ll bet there was a lot more swirling around his head that he wanted to say. Even the most fervent of Patriots fans has to acknowledge that the relationship between Brady and the team hasn’t been healthy for the last couple of years.
Brady may have wanted to leave Foxborough this spring — he was the one who asked for a voiding contract, and the clause preventing the Patriots from using the franchise tag, Kraft has reminded us — but the Patriots sure seemed to nudge him out the door.
Brady’s departure has been building for years. The Patriots made him practically beg for small pay raises the last couple of years, and common sense holds that the Patriots never made him a multiyear offer that he found suitable. Brady and the Patriots got into a big squabble at one point over Alex Guerrero. There appeared to be lingering resentment from all sides about the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. The team certainly didn’t seem to appreciate Brady skipping offseason workouts, and he didn’t appreciate the lack of weapons at receiver and tight end.
‘I don’t want to talk about the past because that’s not relevant to what’s important in my future and what’s going on this offseason for me. I had nothing but two decades of incredible experience and learning from some of the best players, the best coaches, and the ownership of the team.’
Tom Brady on leaving the Patriots
Brady, predictably, didn’t get into any of that Tuesday. When asked if he felt the Patriots would do more to keep him, Brady praised his relationship with Kraft and Belichick and talked about all of the relationships he will cherish.
When asked what it would have taken to stay in New England, Brady declined to answer.
“I don’t want to talk about the past because that’s not relevant to what’s important in my future and what’s going on this offseason for me,” Brady said. “I had nothing but two decades of incredible experience and learning from some of the best players, the best coaches, and the ownership of the team.”
Brady doesn’t seem to care much about shaping the narrative around his departure the way Kraft has. But he perhaps let a couple of true thoughts slip out — for instance, his answer as to when he had finally cut the cord with the Patriots.
“It was really the night that I had stopped by to see — I spoke with Mr. Kraft and asked if I could come over and see him,” Brady said.
That doesn’t sound like someone who had decided a long time ago that he wouldn’t be a Patriot anymore. It sounds like someone who had finally accepted reality — that the Patriots didn’t want him back.
Brady continued his answer, once again taking the high road and praising his relationships with the Krafts and Belichick.
“I know the Patriots will have a great team. They always do,” Brady said. “And I leave there with just great admiration for the people in that organization, and it’s a world-class, first-class organization every way.”
Brady is too smart and too classy to trade barbs with the Patriots. He instead will channel his energy into training for the 2020 season and proving to the Patriots that they were wrong to give up on him.
But don’t be fooled into believing that everything is peachy between Brady and the Patriots, and that they are parting on amicable terms. Brady may not say it outright, but this was a divorce, with all of the messiness that comes with it.