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Volume 24 No. 219
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Belichick "Absolutely" Plans On Returning To Pats In '18; Kraft Disputes Part Of ESPN Report

Patriots coach Bill Belichick today said that he "'absolutely' plans to be coaching" the team next season amid reports "speculating that this could be his final season in Foxborough," according to Jim McBride of the BOSTON GLOBE. Belichick added that he "hadn’t read" the ESPN article posted last week alleging discord between he, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and QB Tom Brady (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 1/8). Kraft over the weekend told THE MMQB's Peter King that he "believes 'absolutely'" that Belichick would return for the '18 season and disputed the part of the ESPN story about the team’s October trade of QB Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers. Kraft indicated that he "did not order the trade and did not meet at length in the weeks before the trade with Belichick." He said the report that he and Belichick met for half a day during the season about Garoppolo was “a total fabrication and fiction." Kraft: "I am telling you, it’s fiction.” ESPN's Seth Wickersham, who wrote the report, responded by saying, “I absolutely stand by my story.” Kraft also "dismissed talk that he would consider trading Belichick to any team." It is "unknown why there is such a gap between what Wickersham reported and what Kraft has vehemently denied" (SI.com, 1/6). Wickersham this morning appeared on WEEI and said he spoke to "multiple" players in reporting the story. He said, "I can't get into the numbers, but I appreciate the question. It was multiple" ("Kirk & Callahan," WEEI-AM, 1/8).

BRADY ALSO DENIES DISCORD: In Boston, Adam Kurkjian noted Patriots QB Tom Brady "denied any discord with Belichick" during an interview with Westwood One's Jim Gray and "described Kraft as 'like a second father to (me).'" He also "disputed the notion that he and Belichick were at odds." Brady: "I have a great relationship with coach Belichick. We’ve worked together for 18 years. There’s no coach I’d rather play for and I’ve loved my experience here. I certainly couldn’t be the player I am today without playing for such a great coach. I see these as all positive things. ... That obviously doesn’t sell many newspapers" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/8). Meanwhile, THE MMQB's King wrote he has never heard Kraft "more strident about anything -- and that includes Spygate and Deflategate -- than he was on the phone" discussing the "accusation that he mandated that Garoppolo be traded" (SI.com, 1/8). Meanwhile, 

BELICHICK OUT? THE MMQB's Albert Breer wrote, "I don't think this will all mean that Belichick's gone in a few weeks. But with the strain on relationships inside the building ... I absolutely believe all this could accelerate Belichick's departure" (SI.com, 1/5). In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote there has been a "clash of egos in New England," and if Belichick is "not happy, he will find a way out (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/7). In Newark, James Kratch noted many have "speculated" that the Giants' coaching opening is the "only one Belichick would ever consider leaving the Patriots for." But Kraft "sounds like he has no intention of making that possible" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 1/7). NBC's Mike Florio said, "I'm told there is a 0.0% chance that Belichick will not be coaching the Patriots in 2018. ... He's under contract and the Patriots aren't going to let him go" ("FNIA," NBC, 1/6). In DC, Mark Maske cited sources saying that they "don’t necessarily see a breakup in the immediate future." Sources "point out that Belichick is believed to be under contract and, even if Belichick is inclined to leave, Kraft is not about to trade perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/6). On Long Island, Bob Glauber noted sources outside the organization "suggested a Belichick divorce from the Patriots isn’t likely." One source said, "There would have to be some pretty substantial compensation if he wants to coach somewhere else. Can you see that happening? I don’t" (NEWSDAY, 1/7). ESPN's Tedy Bruschi: "I'd be shocked if these three weren't together next year. It'd be unimaginable for me" ("NFL Live," ESPN2, 1/6).

UNCHARACTERISTIC FALLIBILITY: In Boston, Karen Guregian wrote the ESPN piece was "pro-Belichick and anti-Brady." Kraft also "wasn't cast in the most favorable light." People have been "so used to Belichick running such a tight ship, and nothing ever leaking out." That is what made the "behind-the-scenes representations of Brady in the ESPN piece stand out" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/7). Also in Boston, Dan Shaughnessy wrote fingerprints of Belichick’s operatives are "all over the ESPN story." Now we have Kraft "taking himself off the hook, making Belichick the sole author of the bad trade." This is "Finger Pointing 101." Shaughnessy: "I don't think Belichick is going anywhere, but the hard feelings in Foxborough are real" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/7). The GLOBE's Tara Sullivan noted whenever the Brady-Belichick-Kraft era ends, it should "certainly be remembered for bucking the trend for far longer than logic would seem to allow." If this is indeed the beginning of the end, it has still been a "remarkable union" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/6). In Seattle, Larry Stone wrote this situation "showed that no team, not even the seemingly impenetrable Patriots, is immune from the fallout derived from the inevitable junction of ego, emotion and success" (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/7). In Boston, Steve Buckley writes under the header, "ESPN Or Not, There's Something Amiss At Patriot Place" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/8). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted Brady and Belichick "have never been best friends," but they have the "best professional working relationship in the history of sports." Rapoport cited sources as saying that the Brady-Belichick relationship has been "far more tense than this" in the past ("Good Morning Football," NFL Network, 1/8)

REPORT REPLIES: In Boston, Chad Finn wrote if this story is "read with clear eyes and all rooting interests aside, it's far more illuminating than it is salacious." Wickersham "deserves credit for drilling down into the realities and rumors, elaborating, and tying it all together" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/7). CBSSN's Adam Schein said, "It was great reporting chops. It was well-written and everything was connected, well-sourced" ("That Other Pregame Show," CBSSN, 1/7). THE MMQB's Gary Gramling wrote he found the ESPN piece to be "thoroughly interesting and well-done, but also not particularly damaging" to the Patriots leaders or the organization as a whole (SI.com, 1/7). In Boston, Bob Hohler noted the NFL "issued a statement describing one element of the ESPN story as inaccurate." The article stated that Belichick and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have "become good friends." The story read, "The two men had a long and private meeting during the off week after the regular season." NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart in a statement said, "I’m not disputing the underlying message there that there’s a good positive relationship there." However, Lockhart added the meeting "happened last year, not within the past week" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/6).