Tom's Return Home: Why Did Tom Brady Leave the Patriots?
BY ERIC ZHAO '25
When asked whether he would rejoin the Patriots in 2020, Brady responded, “I don’t know what the future looks like, so I’m not gonna predict it.” After the Patriot’s 2019 Wild Card loss to the Titans, quarterback Tom Brady was flooded with questions like these in the postgame press-conference.
Seventy-nine days later, Brady would sign a $50 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, breaking his twenty-year stint with the team that he had cemented his legacy with. Many doubted that a forty-year-old quarterback could join a new team during a raging pandemic and succeed. But in 2021, Brady disproved these skeptics, reaching a second career-best--forty touchdowns--and defeating the reigning champion, the Chiefs, 31-9 in Super Bowl LV for a seventh title. The Patriots, meanwhile, struggled with their new quarterback, Cam Newton, experiencing their first non-playoff season in over a decade and first losing season in twenty years. That begs the question: why did Brady leave the New England Patriots? A series of growing respect issues led to the downfall of his relationship with the team.
Since Bill Belichick became head coach for the Patriots, they have struggled to retain enough wide receivers. While most of these receivers were small, quick, and smart, consistently catching the ball, they were not field-stretching players. However, because they fit the Patriots offensive scheme and brought success, the Patriots made no revisions. As the Patriots continued to win, receiving became an afterthought, and the quality of these receivers deteriorated in the latter part of Brady’s career. The Patriots also struggled to find receiving talent through the draft, an annual event held where college players are selected to NFL teams. Drafting receivers was not Belichick’s strong suit, and from 2009 to 2020, the Patriots drafted only eleven wide receivers. Nearly all of them failed at the professional level, with only one lasting more than three seasons with the team. The team’s receiving corps became a weakness; the Patriots shifted their offense to moving the ball on the ground until the 2019 season, when offensive issues became apparent. Attempts to resolve the situation failed, as Brady did not trust his teammates to catch the ball and became increasingly frustrated towards the lack of offense.
Furthermore, Belichick irked Brady, who, after twenty years and six championships, felt under appreciated. Belichick strives to treat each player, undrafted rookies and respected veterans alike, with the same tough, “not good enough” attitude. At the 2018 Milken Institute Global Press Conference, Brady was asked whether he felt the team respected him, to which he responded with: “I plead the fifth.” Alex Guerrero’s, Brady’s trainer, commented, “[Bill] never evolved. So you can’t treat someone who’s in his 40s like they’re 20.” For instance, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s draft and Jarrett Stidham signaled that Belichick was ready to move on from Brady. Ultimately, upon owner Robert Kraft’s request, Garoppolo was traded away. A team player, Brady took pay cuts and restructured his contract to benefit the Patriots. However, he struggled to come to a fair agreement at the end of his Pats career. While it appears he never received enough respect, Brady often dismisses these sentiments.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots drafted quarterback Mac Jones who has impressed many so far. Meanwhile, Brady thrives in Tampa Bay, the team reigning as champion and in contention for another Super Bowl. The Patriots, on the other hand, are still finding their identity, hoping to return to the playoffs. On October 4, Brady returned to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots in a game dubbed as “The Return” and pulled out a 19-17 victory over his former team in the second highest-viewing Sunday Night Football game. Afterwards, Brady and Belichick briefly caught up in the locker room, with Brady expressing how he “appreciates everything he’s done for [him].” While this legendary quarterback may be lying through his teeth when discussing his true feelings for the team, he certainly created an era of unprecedented success for the Patriots.