--Neil Sedaka’s 1962 Grammy-nominated hit “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”
Whether it’s statistically true or not, popular belief has always been that about half of all marriages end in divorce.
Of course that’s in regards to romantic real world couplings, not the ruthless bottom line business of NFL football where the rate would seem to be much higher than that.
So it is that we approach the previously unfathomable but suddenly quite possible reality that the Patriots and Tom Brady might just be headed for -- to use the term Gwyneth Paltrow popularized – a conscious uncoupling.
After 20 seasons together with Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick building so many good memories, including nine trips to the Super Bowl and six blingtacular rings, Brady negotiated the right to control his future as he’s set to hit the freedom of NFL free agency on March 18.
Let’s be clear, at this point no one seems to know what’s going to happen. Hell, we’ve gotten diametrically opposed opinions from the two theoretically most tied-in NFL information guys.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who’s been at the forefront of the idea that Brady could be leaving New England dating back to last fall, opined that the Patriots will be looking for an answer from the quarterback sooner rather than later, maybe even as early as March 1.
Meanwhile, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has a “hard time imagining” Brady reaching any kind of deal before getting a taste of what the open market has to offer, even though he previously reported that the Patriots would be willing to go to relatively extreme measures in excess of $30 million to retain the G.O.A.T.
Asked by a fan during a video Q&A session on Instagram this week which team he’d be playing for next season, Brady himself remained silent and merely stared into the camera with curious look before moving on.
But since there is at least a puncher’s chance that Brady could play elsewhere in 2020 – in case you haven’t heard the Chargers, Raiders, Titans, Bucs and others are all theoretical landing spots – it’s at least worth pondering how the biggest uniform change in sports since Babe Ruth might play out.
Who will be blamed for the divorce? There’s always blame in divorces.
Who will get the better of the settlement and hit the ground on a new life more quickly and successfully?
Who gets the dog?
Really, only one person in this three-way divorce has nothing to lose. And it’s TB12.
As hard as it is going to be to accept for anyone in Patriot Nation, if Brady moves on to one of the other 31 NFL cities for his 21st season at the age of 43 he does so playing with essentially house money. That will actually be true both literally and figuratively once he sells his $30-plus million Brookline mansion.
Say Brady succeeds in his new NFL home. Puts up good to very good numbers. Leads his team to a playoff appearance or even beyond.
That will only add to his already bulletproof legend as the greatest quarterback, greatest winner and maybe greatest football player of all time.
Of course, maybe things won’t work out elsewhere. Maybe he’ll struggle with new schemes (if he doesn’t bring his own), new coaches, new teammates and the rest.
He’ll be seen as a 43-year-old future Hall of Famer who took on too great a challenge of change too late in his career. It will be easily rationalized as understandable, almost predictable.
Then in five years he’ll head to Canton. Will be glorified in the Patriots Hall of Fame before that.
Statues will pop up, New England streets will still be renamed and life will go on as planned.
Now, let’s look at the other side of the boardroom table in this possible but still hard to envision divorce – Kraft and Belichick. This is where there is the potential for an ugly downside.
Say the Patriots are a middling or worse team in 2020 while Brady is finding success elsewhere. Not only will Kraft be criticized for letting a franchise legend leave too soon, but Belichick’s coaching and decision making will be called into question.
After all, anyone who’s ever listened to talk radio has heard the critical question: what’s Belichick ever won as a head coach without Brady?
Fans will wonder how Kraft, a former season ticket holder on those cold metal seats of Foxboro Stadium who saved the franchise from becoming the St. Louis Stallions, could let this happen. It’s the type of move that would have been common in past Patriots ownership groups, but not the stable, calculated yet familial environment that the Kraft family has fostered in Foxborough.
The possible outcomes of a Patriots dynasty divorce are many.
Maybe Brady and the Patriots will face off in Super Bowl LV in Tampa next February, as unlikely as that is to envision.
Maybe Brady will finally fall of that Kellerman Cliff in a new city and Belichick will continue to chug along successfully toward Don Shula’s NFL wins record with someone else under center. That would buff up his own G.O.A.T. status and give a would-be answer to some prone to the age-old question: who’s more responsible for the Patriots dynasty, Belichick or Brady?
Most likely, though, is that neither side is as good apart as they have been together for 20 years. Two Hall of Fame careers will peter out.
And Kraft will be the one left holding the six Lombardi Trophies at Gillette Stadium, a lasting reminder of what was, what will likely never be again and, on some level, a divorce that probably could have been avoided.
If over the next six weeks the sky indeed falls in Patriot Nation and the dismal divorce of the Patriots dynasty comes to fruition, Brady will land on his feet just fine. He’s really got nothing to lose and maybe even something to gain.
Kraft, Belichick and the Patriots, though, they may never be seen in quite the same way again.
It is what it is.