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We’re on to Tom Brady season.
The Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs at a shockingly early date — Jan. 4 — putting the 2019 season in the rearview mirror and moving to the forefront the only football story that matters in New England for the next several months:
Will Brady play football next season? And will it be for the Patriots?
The Patriots’ three principals — Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft — all spoke about Brady’s future in the 36 hours following Saturday night’s loss to the Titans. Belichick discussed it (sort of) in a news conference Sunday morning, while Brady and Kraft addressed it in comments that were published Monday morning by NBC Sports’s Peter King.
On the surface, everything seems just fine: Belichick said it’s too early to discuss anyone’s future, Kraft said his “hope and prayer” is that Brady will return next year, and Brady said, “I’ve been so fortunate to play for such a great owner and for such a great coach.”
But, as usual, there’s a lot more being said under the surface by all three men.
Let’s put their comments through our trusty Patriots Translator to figure out what Brady, Kraft, and Belichick are really saying.
■ Brady: “I think I still can play at a championship level. I’ve just got to go do it. I’m motivated to get back to work and training.”
Translation: “I still consider myself an elite quarterback, and expect to be paid and treated as such — whether that’s from the Patriots or otherwise. And if the Patriots don’t bring me back, I’m going to bust my butt to make sure I prove them wrong.”
■ Kraft: “Before the season started, it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year. You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to six Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he’s part of my family. Blood family.
“Anyone who’s done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years.”
Translation: “If Brady doesn’t return, don’t blame me. I love him like a son. He’s the one that wanted to be a free agent.”
■ Brady: “I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are. If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I love playing football. I still want to play football.”
Translation: “I’m not retiring. I want to play. And if the Patriots don’t show me the respect I deserve, I am on the first flight out of town. You don’t think another team will give me what I want? Let’s find out, shall we?“
■ Kraft: “My hope and prayer is No. 1, he play for the Patriots. Or No. 2, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”
Translation: “My hope and prayer is that he comes back to the Patriots on our terms — at the price we set, and for the number of years that we deem appropriate. If he wants more than that, well, hey, we tried.”
■ Kraft: “But I just hope and pray we fit into his plans.”
Translation: “If Brady doesn’t return, don’t blame me. Don’t blame me. Don’t blame me. Don’t blame me.”
■ Belichick: “I think that everybody that is part of it is an important part of it, and I want to give the proper attention and communication and detail and thought into my input into those decisions.
“But it’s not an individual decision. There are other people involved, and so there has to be some type of communication, understanding, agreement — whatever you want to call it — and that’s not a one-way street.
“I hope you can understand that. One person just can’t decide what everybody else is going to do when players aren’t under contract, and we have a lot of players that aren’t under contract.”
Translation: “If it were up to me, we would move on from Brady already. Heck, I was ready to move on three years ago. He’s going to be 43 years old next year and coming off one of his worst seasons. And I’m supposed to commit another two or three years to him? Are we taking crazy pills? Let’s let the past be the past and start rebuilding this team for the future already.”
■ Brady: “I’m not crushingly disappointed. I think we fought hard. Our head is held high. We’re competitors . . . But those other guys [the Titans] are competitive, too, and they deserved to win tonight. We just didn’t make the plays the last half of the season that we needed to make. Didn’t make the plays tonight.”
Translation: “Did you see the scrubs they surrounded me with this year? They gave me absolutely no help on offense. We went into a gunfight with a butter knife. Give me better teammates, and I can still win you a Super Bowl.”
■ Kraft: “But also we know you can’t rest on your laurels. Things change and you’ve got to have an edge and look to how you keep things going the best you can.”
Translation: “Sure I want Brady back, but at our price. We’re not going to break the bank for a 43-year-old quarterback whose play is slipping. We’ve got other people on this team to pay, too. And if Tom doesn’t want to play at our price, we’ve got to do what’s best for the team.”
■ Brady: “I absolutely still do love this game . . . I think a lot of other people who are great at what they do — great artists or great actors or great businessmen — they don’t have to stop what they love as they get older. I know there’s football still in here.”
Translation: “How many times do I have to say this? I’m not retiring. If I have to go play for the Chargers, so be it.”
■ Kraft: “He is unique in the kind of leader he is, his work ethic, his selfless nature, everything. Think about it: He’s been with us 20 percent of the life of the NFL.”
Translation: “Tom, do you really want to go play for another team? Good luck finding anywhere near the level of success you have had by playing for the Patriots.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.