The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tom Brady’s fanatical aversion to injuries could be the Patriots’ fatal flaw, ESPN report says

Are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick headed for a breakup? (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

Take any NFL dynasty, and I’ll give you a dynasty that either ended, or had its end hastened, by an injury to that team’s quarterback.

The Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw needed a cortisone shot before every game of the 1982 season — even with an eight-week break thanks to the players’ strike — because of elbow pain, then had surgery the following offseason. He would play in only one more NFL game in 1983 before calling it quits, and Pittsburgh would spend the next decade or so flirting or fully engaging with mediocrity.

The 49ers’ Joe Montana missed all of the 1991 season and all but the second half of the final game of the 1992 regular season, also with an elbow injury. Steve Young already was in place as a very capable replacement by the time San Francisco traded Montana to the Chiefs in 1993, and the 49ers would add to their Super Bowl tally with Young at the helm in the 1994 season — but Young had his career ended by concussions and San Francisco spent more than a decade in the wilderness.

The Cowboys won three Super Bowls with Troy Aikman at quarterback. Since he retired after the 2000 season because of head and back injuries, they have only two playoff victories.

Obviously, the teams mentioned above were successful for reasons that went far beyond their quarterbacks, but all four of the above-mentioned signal-callers ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tom Brady will end up in Canton, too, after leading the Patriots to five Super Bowl wins in seven appearances, with another berth on the table this season. Apart from a lost 2008 season that was ended by knee ligament tears in the first quarter of New England’s first game, he has been remarkably healthy throughout his career, a fact he has chalked up in recent years to a training and dietary regimen devised by Alex Guerrero, with whom he has developed his “TB12 Method” life-coaching brand.

And that fanatical devotion to both his own health and the brand that he hopes to build off it is what seemingly will bring down the Patriots’ dynasty, according to a story published Friday by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that details the inner turmoil that has roiled New England this year.

Some of Wickersham’s reporting isn’t exactly breaking new ground. The Boston Globe and the Boston Sports Journal reported last month that Brady’s relationship with Guerrero had created an uncomfortable vibe at Patriots HQ, enough that Coach Bill Belichick had revoked many of Guerrero’s team privileges and that some of the players had started referring to Guerrero as “Yoko,” a callback to the woman who allegedly hastened the Beatles’ demise all those decades ago. But Wickersham took things further:

>> Starting in 2013, Belichick allowed Guerrero to sit in on meetings in which the medical records of Patriots players were discussed. (The trainer denied that he had actually seen any of the records.) “But Guerrero often would blame Patriots trainers for injuries, while offering few insightful opinions of his own, and Belichick quickly realized inviting him had been a mistake,” Wickersham reports.

>> Patriots players felt pressure from Brady — who obviously has amassed a sizable amount of power in the locker room, with new players calling him “sir” — to get treatment from Guerrero at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center near the team’s training facility. Belichick confronted Brady about this early this season, according to Wickersham, though no resolution was reached.

>> Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sought treatment at TB12 after injuring his shoulder while replacing Brady during his 2016 Deflategate suspension, only to find the doors locked. Wickersham reports Garoppolo eventually got treatment there two weeks later, but only after a high-ranking team official called to ask why he hadn’t been admitted.

That anecdote was telling and serves as the spine for the second thrust of Wickersham’s story: The team didn’t know how to handle the Garoppolo situation. According to Wickersham, the Patriots “repeatedly” offered the future free agent $17 million to $18 million annually to remain Brady’s backup, with the promise of a further raise once he ascended to the starting role. But Garoppolo’s team — led by agent Don Yee, who also represents Brady — rejected the offers, which probably was for the best for both sides. Why would Garoppolo take any deal that limits his earning potential and doesn’t explicitly promise him a starting job? Why would the Patriots — usually so savvy in their salary-cap maneuverings — devote so much money to a player they knew wouldn’t be taking the field unless Brady got hurt? (Again, Brady seems to devote much of his energy into not getting hurt and has said he wants to play into his mid-40s.)

Eventually, Belichick was forced by owner Robert Kraft to engineer a midseason trade of Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, getting a mere second-round pick in return. The move left him “furious and demoralized,” his friends told Wickersham.

Garoppolo went on to win all five of his starts for the 49ers, a fact that Wickersham reports delighted Belichick. The Patriots are preparing for another Super Bowl run. Brady is outwardly healthy and again is a major reason they’re in that position. He’s also the reason they might want to truly savor it this time around. Meanwhile, in an attempt to deflect any possibility of the story becoming a distraction, Brady, Belichick and Kraft released a joint statement through the Patriots on Friday afternoon, professing that the three “stand united.”

“For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship. In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate. The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years. It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”

Later Friday, Guerrero released a statement of his own at the TB12 website, titled, “Alex Guerrero: In My Own Words.”

Over the past few years, many people have tried to paint a picture of who I am.  But none of these pictures has been complete.
I get that many of my beliefs are not mainstream and I know they may differ from others’.  But they reflect my experience from over 22 years of practice working with some of the best athletes in the world.  I understand that some people may disagree with me about how to treat injuries or how to train in order to maximize potential. I welcome this and think it is normal and healthy in all careers, because it helps everyone learn, grow, and improve.
Throughout my career I have been blessed to work with many remarkable athletes in a variety of sports. With every one of these clients, my only goal has been to help them bring forth positive changes in their body & mind.  I have always tried to be respectful of the staff each player answers to, and I have never tried to create divisiveness or conflict.  My ultimate goal has always been to do my very best to help the player get back on the field and help their team.  I have never had any motive other than that. My approach is and always has been to give people information based on my beliefs — then let them follow their own path toward what they believe works best for them.  Ultimately every decision is up to each individual athlete.
Many of the athletes I have worked with I consider not only clients, but also close friends. One of those is Tom Brady with whom I have a great friendship that I cherish.  It is a privilege working alongside someone with his commitment and discipline.  Watching Tom succeed as he grows older has been a personal and professional highlight, because I consider seeing players’ and clients’ achievements in their own careers to be the most gratifying part of my work.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my career, and to the professional organizations that have allowed me to treat their players — including the New England Patriots. I am grateful to Robert Kraft and his coaches and staff. I am proud to have co-founded the TB12 Sports Therapy Center with Tom, where we’re able to make a daily impact in thousands of people’s lives.
Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to my family, clients, and friends. It’s because of you that I do what I do, and it’s the greatness you achieve that continues to motivate me. I wish nothing but the best for everyone and for each of us to be able to live our lives to our utmost potential.

It’s worth noting that, in his statement, Guerrero thanks Brady and Kraft by name, while failing to do the same for Belichick, choosing instead to note that he is “grateful” to the Patriots’ “coaches and staff.”

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