Well, it’s over. Tom Brady announced that he’s leaving the Patriots after 20 years. His run in New England produced the greatest dynasty in NFL history and now his football career will finish in Tampa Bay.
Why did these future Hall of Famers take different paths this offseason?
The Saints have prioritized getting Brees more offensive talent
We have to start this discussion around team building. Both Brees and Brady are at the stage of their career where they can’t do it all themselves. They need help. The Patriots fell far behind the Saints in that regard, with the gap widening even more between the end of 2018 to now.
The Saints have given Brees that help through both the draft and free agency.
In 2016, they drafted receiver Michael Thomas in the second round. The following year, they drafted right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who was a first-team All-Pro this past season, in the first round. Later in the third round, they nabbed running back Alvin Kamara. In last year’s draft, they added Erik McCoy to play center. That’s four home run draft picks on offense.
Add into the mix offensive linemen Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead from previous drafts, plus guard Larry Warford, tight end Jared Cook, receiver Ted Ginn Jr., and running back Latavius Murray in free agency. The Saints have hit on draft picks AND free agent signings to surround Brees with talent. Brees can trust his front office to make the right roster moves.
Brady hasn’t gotten similar help from the Patriots in recent years
The Patriots have been the opposite. They used first-round picks on running back Sony Michel and offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn in 2018, and receiver N’Keal Harry in 2019. Michel had a good rookie season but has been inconsistent. Wynn has played in just eight games due to injury. Harry missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury and never really got on the same page as Brady, catching just 12 of 24 targets last season. More importantly, the Patriots never replaced the huge void in the offense left by Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots have drafted offensive lineman well, adding starters at the interior three positions. However, they’ve let Nate Solder and Trent Brown walk. Both were priced out of the market when they hit free agency and huge losses for a unit trying to protect a quarterback in his 40s.
When you look at the current rosters, the Saints have a better offensive line, No. 1 wide receiver, tight end, and running back. So if you’re Brees, this is a no-brainer to come back to New Orleans.
At some point, and that was probably during this season, Brady looked around the locker room and realized the front office in New England had failed him. And yes, the Patriots did attempt to add parts, like Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown and those draft picks, but it didn’t work. They deserve the heat for that.
It’s one of the factors for Brady signing with the Bucs. Look at the weapons on offense: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. All four of those guys are better than anyone on the Patriots. It’s not even close.
The QB-coach relationship is a big factor
Besides talent, Brady likely went to Tampa Bay because he felt his relationship with Bruce Arians would be collaborative, something I believe was missing in New England.
That does not mean Brady disliked playing in New England, or for Bill Belichick, but there have been numerous reports over the year that Brady and Belichick clashed at times. Arians is both popular with his players and known for his ability to get the most from his quarterbacks. It appears Brady was looking for someone who’d work better with him.
This has never been a concern for Brees and Sean Payton. There’s never even been a whiff of contention between them. Maybe that’s because Payton heaps praise on Brees, while Belichick never gave Brady the adulation he probably craves.
Location, location, location
Since 2006, when Brees became the starter in New Orleans, he’s a remarkable 71-37 in the Superdome. Brees knows he’s got a huge advantage playing in the dome. It’s weather-controlled and he completes a higher percent of passes there. The crowd noise is intense, and it helps his defense.
Brady, while being 115-19 at home (that doesn’t even seem real), will be 43 years old this coming season. Just like any person getting older, you want to be somewhere warm. It’s understandable why Brady would want to leave the cold weather behind and head to Tampa, where his arm strength won’t be as affected by the conditions.
Plus, Brady will now play in the NFC South, which means at least two road games (New Orleans and Atlanta) will be played in a dome.
I’m excited to watch both these quarterbacks duel it out twice a year in the NFC South. It’s the first time Brady has played against a division where every starting quarterback is competent. It should be a blast.