Tom Brady has had enormous success as a solo act, but in divorce sometimes both parties can be better off in the long run.
The national narrative is that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former quarterback Tom Brady synergized one another in an almost magical way, such that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
Now, so the story goes, Belichick can never be the same. But just a minute, my friends! That’s not the way the story actually reads. Truth to tell, Brady and Belichick, at times, especially towards the end of their run — at least according to reports — were actually working against each other in New England, and that frayed their relationship. Rather than synergistic, the sum of the parts were actually greater than the whole in this case, and in the long run both parties will be better off.
Let’s ask why Belichick might now flourish after being set free from a troubled relationship.
If Belichick got shafted on the immediate terms of the divorce agreement (he had to pay a lump-sum alimony payment in the form of a 2020 salary cap dead money charge of $13.5 million; plus Brady won custody of the right arm, which he took with him to Tampa Bay), the pain was excruciating but it was only temporary. The financial burden has now been lifted, and there has been adequate time to heal from his midlife crisis. Belichick’s abilities as a coach and general manager will be able to re-assert themselves.
Nothing happened last season that should make anyone believe that coach Belichick is no longer capable of leading a team back to the Super Bowl. If Brady has seven rings, let us not forget that Belichick has eight, including two won with the New York Giants. The terms of the divorce settlement were simply too destructive for Belichick to overcome last season.
There will be other right arms. Though Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham were probably not the right match for Belichick, there’s a chance for a long-term relationship with either Cam Newton or Mac Jones, or both. More importantly there’s an opportunity to find the defensively minded lifestyle that Belichick has sought ever since he led the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs in 1994 with a defensive juggernaut.
Game Theory 101 says that creating a dominant team means having the highest possible win percentage. Basically, it means maximizing the ratio of points scored divided by the points given up by your team. It’s the ratio that’s important rather than the actual number. So, the theory goes, if your team scores twice as many points as your opponent, you have a dominant team.
It’s possible to have a team that holds opponents points to half the league average, which is currently about 25 points per season. It’s not easy, but several teams have done it, such as the 2000 Ravens They held their opponents to 165 points over 16 games (10.3 points per game).
However, it may be impossible to score twice as many points as the league average (50 per game). The Denver Broncos have the current record for most points by a team in a 16-game season, with 606 in 2013 (37.9 per game). They fell about 200 short of doubling the league average.
For those who are into the math, additional explanation is given in page three of this article. This just reinforces what you already know. A dominant team has to have a dominant defense. Next time you’re at your favorite Patriots’ watering hole someone is going to protest, “It’s a quarterback’s league!” The counter to that is that “Defense wins championships.”
So why do most teams spend most of their money on offense? In general this is probably not the correct decision, but Belichick has had to compromise his beliefs because of having Tom Brady on the team. There are certain adjustments that a coach makes for the GOAT that are not made for just anyone. Not that Belichick was complaining, but it wasn’t really his style.
Another rule from game theory is to not risk too much capital on one asset. However most teams violate that rule when they sign their franchise quarterback to their second contract, which represents some $30 million a year when the big money kicks in. Belichick too had to follow that trend given that he had the GOAT on his team, but he has always wanted to build a defensive team. Brady took pay cuts and restructured his deal to make it happen.
Using numbers from Spotrac, the average NFL team spends 50.2% of its budget on offense, 46.7% on defense, and 3% on special teams (placekicker, punter and longsnapper). However, the Patriots are now on a trajectory to become the biggest investors on defense in the NFL, with 54.6% of its payroll planned for defense, subject to future roster moves.
Belichick could not have done this had he still been chained to Brady. 2021 is his opportunity to be the true Bill Belichick for the first time in a long time.
Still, if it’s taking Belichick a year to recover from the divorce, the benefits to Brady were immediate, particularly his ability to act unofficially as an assistant offensive coordinator and assistant general manager. He was outstanding in both roles. And he also went to a team with a great foundation with the lone missing piece being quarterback. He played his hand as best he possibly could.
Meanwhile, Belichick lost tons of players to free agency and opt outs. But this offseason changed all of that.