When Tom Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, it shattered a lot of popular theories about the NFL.
A team doesn’t have to hit its stride in December to win in the playoffs. A team doesn’t need more than one wide receiver to have a productive offense. And those voluntary offseason workouts really don’t have much effect on what happens in the regular season.
Brady skipped all of the Patriots’ voluntary workouts last year, the only quarterback in the NFL to do so, and the season ended with his sixth Super Bowl ring.
By all appearances, Brady is doing the same this year. With the Patriots’ offseason program now two weeks old, Brady is working out on his own, and last week posted some photos and videos of him throwing with Julian Edelman at Boston College.
Ball was a yard short. #RoomForImprovement pic.twitter.com/N4NThCPGUk— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) April 27, 2019
Until last weekend, I was just fine with Brady doing what he wants this spring. I’m not worried about him showing up ready to go in late July. And you could argue that his workouts with Edelman at BC are more productive than what is going on in Foxborough. NFL offseason workouts are strictly regulated about what type of work can be done. Brady’s aren’t.
But last weekend’s NFL Draft changed my mind. This opinion won’t be popular here in New England, but I’ll say it:
Brady needs to show up to offseason workouts this year.
At the very least, he should be there for Phase 3 of the offseason. That starts on May 20, and lasts for four weeks. That’s when the real football starts, with teams allowed to hold seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills. And since there are no pads or contact allowed, they are basically passing camps. The quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs get the most out of these practices, by far.
If Brady wants to stay away until May 20, that’s cool. Phase 2 started Monday, but there’s still not much real football taking place; coaches can be on the field, but no offense vs. defense, one-on-one drills, or helmets.
Keep working out at BC. Have fun at the Kentucky Derby (Brady is headed back to Churchill Downs this week after skipping last year).
But Brady really should attend the four weeks of Phase 3 workouts, especially if he’s in town.
Brady skipped last year, knowing he already had a great connection with Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, James White, and Chris Hogan. He showed up for three days of minicamp last June, but really didn’t get in any work with his teammates until training camp began in July.
But this year is different. Gronk and Hogan are gone. Brady now has a rookie first-round receiver to work with in N’Keal Harry.
“Glad to have you N’Keal,” Brady said on Twitter. “Big things ahead, excited to work with you.”
But Brady shouldn’t wait until late July to really start working with Harry. He has four weeks in May and June to get introduced to his big, new target on the outside, and he shouldn’t squander that opportunity. Same goes for working with all of his new receivers and tight ends, guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, Maurice Harris, and Bruce Ellington. Even Phillip Dorsett could use the extra work with Brady.
Yes, these workouts are totally voluntary (except for the three-day minicamp, which is mandatory), and I am normally against shaming players into attending.
But this is different. The Patriots went out and got Brady a weapon in Harry, and he needs to put in the work with him. It’s 10 sessions between May 20 and June 11 (and Bill Belichick may even cancel some). Three are mandatory, seven are voluntary.
Brady should be there. There is plenty of time between June 11 and late July to spend with family, travel the world, and/or work on his outside pursuits. And every weekend will be free, too.
Without Brady, there’s only so much the Patriots can accomplish this offseason. Brian Hoyer (assuming he sticks around) will be a great mentor to rookie fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham. Hoyer can help Harry learn the playbook. Hoyer can be the team leader.
But Brady can do all of that, too. And Hoyer can’t play quarterback the way Brady does. Practices just won’t be as productive without Brady there.
The Patriots could use Brady’s leadership this spring. They have had a lot of turnover on the coaching staff, including a new receivers coach who will be tutoring Harry. Josh McDaniels can also provide a lot of leadership. But Brady is basically a coach at this point, and his presence would be impactful.
Brady seems to be in a good place right now. He found that balance between football and his personal life. He looks great on those workout videos he is posting to Twitter and Instagram. He is being hard on himself, captioning one video, “Ball was a yard short.”
Brady can work out on his own over the next three weeks. But he really should be in attendance once Phase 3 begins May 20, especially if he’s here in Boston anyway. The Patriots got Brady a shiny new receiver in Harry. Now it’s time for him to put in the work.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin