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Photo courtesy of Patriots.com

I went to bed just after midnight and wound up being awake most of the night taking care of my sick girlfriend. The last thing I was expecting was for this ESPN "hit piece" on the Patriots to drop at 1 a.m. and for me to stop everything I was doing to read it.

Before the article came out, I jokingly tweeted that I wouldn't believe a word of it. Based on ESPN's history of trying to slander the Pats, I'm sure I'm not the only fan who feels this way. In fact, I'd wager a guess that most Pats fans feel the same way I do.

But now I've read through it twice. While it is very well written and definitely a compelling read, I still do not believe most of what's written in the piece. There is literally nothing new here. It's all just rehashed speculation. (Side note: I definitely believe the Patriots wanted to keep Jimmy Garoppolo for as long as they could. I also believe Bill Belichick doesn't like Alex Guerrero based on Guerrero's ban from team activities.).

Seth Wickersham, who is the author behind this, cites a bunch of unnamed sources throughout this article. Not once does he have anybody in the organization on record. Wickersham is a damn good reporter and has broken big stories in the past, but I refuse to believe much of anything that comes from a "Patriots staffer" or "friends of Belichick." Sorry, not gonna go down that hole.

I was always told that if you don't hear a story being reported by multiple journalists, it's usually not likely to be valid. Wickersham may very well have some sources within the Patriots organization, but the fact that none of them wanted to come forward doesn't sit well with me. At the same time, though, I could understand why - this is the kind of thing that may cost someone their job. No one wants that.

Additionally, we don't know what these "staffers" roles are in the organization. Maybe I'm naive, but what if they're equipment people or PR people who just happen to hear parts of conversations and prematurely react? How would they have such information on a guy like Belichick, who rarely shares anything personal with anyone?

Wickersham also cites "unnamed players." I can especially understand why a player wouldn't want to come forward with any of this, but I wonder who they are and if they're actually current Patriots players or if they're former players who have seen Brady, Belichick or Kraft blow up at one another and Wickersham is just doing this for a dramatic effect. Again, I may be way overthinking it, but I would put nothing past ESPN.

One of the big sticking points of this piece was supposed to be that there is a real belief that Belichick could be done with the Patriots after this season, but that isn't mentioned until the end and it is presented in the form of a question.

Kraft, Brady and Belichick were supposed to meet in late December to clear the air, but that never happened. It probably won't until after the season. Those interviewed describe a lingering sadness around the team, as if coaches and staff know that the end might be near. Both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are expected to become head coaches; other assistant coaches might leave to join their staffs or for college jobs, or even retire. The imminent exodus raises the question going forward: Is it possible that Belichick would rather walk away than try to rebuild the staff with a 41-year-old Brady and another year of Guerrero drama -- all while trying to develop a new quarterback?

Who exactly said this? Staffers? Players? Friends of Brady? Friends of Belichick? I guarantee not every single person interviewed for this feels this way. If these three have put ego's aside for the last 17 years, there is no reason they can't keep doing it. Hell, if Axl Rose and Slash can put aside their differences and Make Guns N Roses Relevant Again, then this should be cake.

Is it possible Bill could leave? Sure. He's 67 and has said he doesn't want to coach into his 70s. But anyone who was watched even one game in the Belichick era could tell you he's a big fan of the unconventional route.

And then what happens if they all sit down and hash things out? Does Bill still leave?

Furthermore, if there was really a threat of him leaving, I don't think the organization would allow one or both of Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia to interview for head coaching gigs. McDaniels has been long thought to be Belichick's successor. The Patriots wouldn't want to screw that up if they really thought Belichick wasn't going to be around anymore.

Another big issue I have with this is that this report states Brady tried to facilitate the Garoppolo trade. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports and Mike Giardi of NBC Sports Boston both report this isn't true. There have always been rumors that Brady didn't like Garoppolo because he thought Jimmy was going to steal his job. And if that's truly the case, Brady should stop being petty because someone eventually will take his job.

That being said, however, I don't believe there is any animosity between the two, nor do I believe Brady wanted Garoppolo gone. Brady and Garoppolo have both said the two have communicated via text since the trade, with Brady congratulating him on winning games with the 49ers. They've posted about one another on social media as well. I know that doesn't mean too much, but if you don't like someone at least a little bit, you wouldn't bother sending congratulatory texts or post pictures of you two together for the world to see.

I could understand Brady being a little happier once the Jimmy trade went down, as it shows the organization has him pegged as the present and the future. That has to feel good for a guy who will be 41 years old in August.

I have long contended that the Patriots made the right move in trading Garoppolo even if he turned into a superstar. And I like Garoppolo a lot, so that's not a dig on him. But you just don't give up on the guy who is likely going to be the MVP of the league this year and who has brought you five Super Bowl titles during this run because you think the end is near. Brady is still unreal at what he does at 40 years old and you have to ride him until the wheels fall off.

The Patriots would have had to pay Garoppolo close to $20 million per year to keep him on the bench, which would just be weird for an organization that doesn't often hand out big contracts, especially if the player is going to be riding the bench for a little while longer. If they really believed Jimmy was the guy, then so be it. But I just couldn't see the Patriots making that work while having to allocate money to other parts of the roster to improve it or just simply keep it afloat.

It was either that or trade Brady, which is off the table for me even after I put my throbbing man crush for him aside.

All in all, given the way ESPN has tried to derail the Patriots in the past, whether it be 11 of 12 or bugging the opposing locker rooms, this doesn't seem much different. The unnamed sources and the holes in Wickersham's story are just too big for me to take seriously.

I find it convenient this came out right before the playoffs. It's as if ESPN is trying to get in their heads and have this season end sooner than it should. But if anyone knows anything about the Patriots, they won't talk about this publicly, but this is absolutely going to be used as bulletin board material for the playoffs.

Buckle up. This ride is gonna be a lot more fun now.

Follow me on Twitter - @JesseGaunce

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Jesse Gaunce 1/05/2018 06:51:00 AM Edit
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