7 things we learned from Patriots tell-all book, ‘It’s Better to be Feared’

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The New England Patriots’ dynasty remains mysterious and fascinating to the outside world. With Bill Belichick being one of the more secretive individuals in professional sports, there’s a sense that there are so many untold stories — and juicy secrets — that are just waiting to get revealed.

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham has done as good a job as anyone at diving into depths of the organization to gather more and new information about its most interesting characters: Belichick, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft. So it’s no surprise that Wickersham’s coming book, “It’s Better to be Feared,” has plenty of good information about the dynasty. ESPN published an article that noted some of the new reporting from Wickersham ahead of the book’s release on Oct. 2. We’ve got a roundup of that information here.

Additional insight on Malcolm Butler's benching

From ESPN:

“In the lead-up to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia traded heated words at practice over the former Super Bowl hero’s lack of effort. Butler was demoted. At the team party after New England’s loss, Butler responded to teammates asking why he was benched by saying, ‘These dudes,’ referring to the coaches, according to the book, ‘These mother f—ers.'”

Butler went to Minnesota for Super Bowl LII as the team’s No. 2 cornerback, but over the course of the two weeks, he received a demotion, not playing at all in the Super Bowl. Belichick and Butler had not detailed why the cornerback got benched. But former Patriots like James Harrison have speculated that it was a matter of ability and effort — New England didn’t think Butler had it. Wickersham’s reporting suggested there was more to it.

Butler’s NFL story is still hugely impressive. But his chapter with the Patriots had a disappointing ending. That said, Belichick had nice things to say about the cornerback after he retired this year.

Tom Brady expressed wanting to leave the Patriots as early as 2017

From ESPN:

“Kraft sometimes groaned to confidants that Belichick didn’t show him the respect he deserved, but he was in no rush for life after him. Brady, though, seemed ready for it. … ‘I don’t want to play for Bill anymore,’ he told people close to him in 2017.”

Wickersham’s book added that Brady would’ve considered demanding a trade to an L.A. team, if the city had a franchise earlier.

Wickersham published a story in 2018 about Brady and Belichick’s deteriorating relationship, but few believed a breakup was inevitable. Apparently, Brady had already been thinking about it in 2017.

During the 2017 season, Brady went 13-3 while completing 66.3% of his passes for 4,577 yard, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The team had a good year, but lost in the Super Bowl to the Eagles. New England struggled to build an impressive offensive unit in the years that followed, even if the Patriots won one more Super Bowl with the Brady-Belichick combo.

There were more details from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's deteriorating relationship

From ESPN:

“In the end, Tom Brady just wanted to say goodbye — in person — to his longtime coach. But according to a new book to be published next month, Bill Belichick said he wasn’t available and insisted the two New England Patriots legends talk on the phone.”

It’s possible Belichick couldn’t face Brady when the quarterback decided to leave New England during the 2020 offseason. But for context, Brady decided to leave the Patriots in the early days of the pandemic, when we didn’t have full information on how COVID-19 spread. It is possible the coach didn’t want to break quarantine.

There was additional information on why Brady felt it best for him to leave, with the Patriots continually running the organization in its own way — and Brady feeling like he should’ve had more input.

Per ESPN: “Wickersham writes that Brady ultimately left New England not only because both (Bill) Belichick and (Robert) Kraft refused to commit to him until his stated goal of playing until age 45 — it was believed that Belichick thought Brady was close to the end — but because he wanted to be at an organization that welcomed his input rather than ignored it, something he ultimately found in Tampa Bay.” Not unlike Aaron Rodgers’ recent clash with the front office in Green Bay, Brady wanted Belichick to hear out the QB’s thoughts on personnel around the NFL. Certainly, Belichick would communicate with Brady about signings, but the coach had the final say on every move the team made.

Josh McDaniels and Bill O'Brien both seem to be eying a spot succeeding Bill Belichick

Even while Bill O’Brien was winning — and then losing — a power struggle within the Houston Texans, he had eyes for returning to the Patriots, especially if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left for a head coaching job. McDaniels seems interested in taking over in New England when Belichick leaves. But, of course, O’Brien, who was an offensive coordinator for New England, has his eyes on the same gig. It’s fair to wonder whether O’Brien, who is the offensive coordinator at Alabama, might find his way back to the organization, which has another former coordinator, Matt Patricia, in the building working in the front office.

Robert Kraft once insinuated he doesn't like Bill Belichick

From ESPN:

“I have to go to (a Patriots game) to be with the biggest f—–ng a–hole in my life — my head coach.'”

“Bill was an idiot savant,” Kraft told a confidant, according to the book, alluding to Belichick’s reputation before he hired the former Cleveland Browns coach in 2000. “I gave him this opportunity.”

Yeesh.

It doesn’t sound like Kraft and Belichick had the friendliest working relationship, at times. They might even be a bit contentious. There’s actually little information about how tight Belichick and Kraft have been through the years. In Wickersham’s report from 2018, however, Belichick and Kraft are reported to have fought over the team’s decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017. In the Patriots’ trade with the 49ers, Garoppolo netted just a second-round pick, a surprisingly small return for a likely starting quarterback.

Bill Belichick seems to have a much friendlier relationship with Roger Goodell

From ESPN:

“Besides the secret meeting at a private airport to discuss rule changes, on the morning after the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Falcons, Belichick hugged Goodell and lifted the commissioner’s feet off the ground.”

Belichick once sat in a secret meeting at a private airport to discuss rule changes for the upcoming season amid the Deflategate fallout when Goodell was enemy No. 1 in New England, per ESPN. Wickersham’s reporting suggested Belichick and Goodell are much closer than they let on.

Donald Trump nearly cost Bill Belichick the locker room in 2019

From ESPN:

“Patriots assistant coach Brian Flores told Belichick that several players were angry and that he “needed to say something” to the team. Belichick addressed the team, but it didn’t help initially. Many players felt he was being disingenuous. ‘It was hypocritical and out of character,’ a Patriots player recalled. ‘I don’t think he’s an intolerant coach. He isn’t a bad guy. Bill just f—ed up and justified it in a way that he would never accept from a player.’ After the meeting, a small group of Patriots players considered boycotting practice but then reconsidered.”

In 2016, Donald Trump took a podium in New Hampshire on the eve of the presidential election and referenced both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady during a speech. Not only did Trump reveal Brady would be voting for him, but the soon-to-be president also read a letter from Belichick, who expressed his support. The letter brought tremendous media attention amid a polarizing presidential campaign.

Though players dodged questions and/or said the election wouldn’t divide the locker room, Belichick’s actions, apparently, didn’t go over well with the players. And his insufficient apology was lacking, too. Belichick downplayed the impact of the letter on the locker room. It sounds like it was more complicated than the coach let on.

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