One of the traits that transformed Tom Brady from unheralded sixth-round pick to arguably (only in some other locations) the greatest quarterback to ever grip a football is his resolve. With a helmet on, Brady never backs down. He doesn’t give in.
But off the field, it has always been a different story and a different Brady.
He backs down, compromises, avoids confrontation, and cuts off potential distraction. He puts the needs of his employer above his own. That’s the history of his contract negotiations, and it’s the epitaph for his 544-day Deflategate freedom fight, which came to an end Friday.
Brady announced via Facebook he would accept the NFL’s four-game suspension for probably being at least generally aware of Patriot underlings deflating game balls, or masterminding an elaborate deflation scheme, or destroying his cellphone, or breathing oxygen on a day that ends in “Y.” I’m not sure. I need to check commissioner Roger Goodell’s calendar of daily Deflategate rationale.
Although Brady’s decision not to take his quixotic quest to the US Supreme Court and seek a stay of the suspension from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a surprise, it shouldn’t have been surprising. This is who Brady is. He stayed true to himself, even if he didn’t stay true to the “Free Brady” fundamentalists. TB12 is the Henry Clay of franchise quarterbacks, a great compromiser. He is altruistic and team-oriented to his core. He wasn’t built for this controversy.
The idea of his long-shot Supreme Court case hanging over his availability to the Patriots, creating uncertainty at the most important position on the field for most of the season and endangering his quest for a fifth Super Bowl title, was too much for TB12. He would rather put his fate in his own hands than in the hands of the NFL Players Association’s high-powered legal team and the eight Supreme Court justices.
Whatever small smudge sitting out four games might leave on Brady’s reputation will become a footnote to his legacy if he is able to become the first quarterback to pilot a team to five Super Bowl titles. With a new two-year contract extension in hand, Brady doesn’t have to worry as much about Jimmy Garoppolo usurping him the same way Brady usurped Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
It’s better to sit out against Houston on Sept. 22, the third of the four games Brady will miss, than miss out on playing in Super Bowl LI in Houston on Feb. 5.
It seems contradictory that the same man who quoted an aphorism before last season’s AFC Championship game that goes: “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far. We’ve still got further to go,” would yield before exhausting every avenue of the legal process.
But like everything else in his life, from his diet to his workout regimen to his sleep patterns to where he chooses to live, Brady made this decision based on what gives him the best chance of winning a championship.
Brady decided it was prudent to hop off the Deflategate Crazy Train before the end of the line and make sure his season didn’t get derailed at the worst possible time.
This wasn’t an easy decision, I’m sure. No one likes to serve time for a crime they vehemently deny committing, especially one as venial as footballs that may or may not have been artificially underinflated.
Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have as close a relationship as an employer and an employee that don’t share DNA can have. They ultimately made the same decision. When Kraft capitulated to the NFL’s Deflategate sanctions against the team at the 2015 NFL spring meeting in San Francisco, triggering a tidal wave of indignation and disaffection from his fans, he painted two choices for himself in his remarks — “I have two options: I can try to end it or extend it.”
Brady was faced with the same options and concluded it was better to end it than extend it.
It’s doubtful that Saint Thomas will face the same backlash as Kraft, even though only one of them is the man who made sure Patriot Place wasn’t in St. Louis. (Hint: It’s not the guy with the golden arm, granite chin, and Goodell’s tire marks on his back.)
Still, Brady broke from hard-line Patriotologists. He saw the case in a way that Patriotologists simply can’t. It had long ago ceased being about air pressure, chain of custody, text messages, testimony, and a search for the truth.
It wasn’t even about Brady anymore.
For a while this has been strictly an exercise in labor law litigation and collective bargaining agreement interpretation.
Brady and the NFLPA were always an arranged marriage. They had agendas that conveniently aligned. Brady wanted freedom from an unjust, Draconian four-game ban. The NFLPA wanted to leverage the league’s most recognizable player to attenuate Goodell’s punishment power. Any loss for Goodell was a victory for both.
While Brady’s crusade to avoid his suspension has ceased, his case staggers on without him like a woozy boxer. A pleaser to the end, Brady has authorized the NFLPA to try to get the case before the US Supreme Court as a way of diminishing Goodell’s despotic disciplinary stylings.
That’s nice, but even if the NFLPA and former Solicitor General Ted Olson are able to convince the Supreme Court to hear the case, Brady isn’t getting those four games back.
And the maniacal Patriot Haters out there can point out that the two most important figures in the Patriots’ incredible run of excellence, coach Bill Belichick and Brady, were punished by the league for rules violations. That’s a tough one to swallow, but you can wash it down during another championship parade.
At the end of the day, the only person who has to feel good about this decision is the one who has felt the weight of Deflategate the most — Brady.
This is one drive Brady isn’t built to finish.