Yes, Tom Brady skipping Patriots OTAs is a big deal

Some might say Tom Brady skipping OTAs and the Patriots’ offseason program thus far is not a big deal. It’s not like the 18-year veteran and reigning league MVP needs to learn New England’s offense. The team does not need to worry about its QB being out of shape.

The simple reason Brady’s absence is a problem is the vital quality he has exuded throughout his outstanding career — leadership.

This is about being the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl contender. Brady can’t build chemistry with his new offensive teammates if he’s not in the house. These activities in April through June are “voluntary,” but coaches and team execs expect all players to attend. Even unsigned vets and draftees are offered injury protection so they can participate if they choose.

During my GM years, I was never overly concerned when a non-quarterback was not in the offseason program or when such players missed the early weeks of training camp (except for rookies who needed all the reps they could get). Coaches wanted every player present from Day 1, but veterans like Pro Bowl running back Robert Smith would try to hold out every year before signing one-year deals. Smith had several major knee injuries early in his career, and he thought the extra contact would expose him to more. I was happy to sign him two weeks prior to the regular season, as I knew he’d be in shape when he reported. I didn’t have to worry about him getting hurt before the season.

But I always made sure our starting quarterback was set and satisfied contract-wise so he could be there to lead the team, work with new teammates and build chemistry on and off the field.

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Brady is missing an opportunity to work with newly signed receiver Jordan Matthews; to spend more time with Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett, who joined the team last season but saw limited action. Brady could be getting in tune with rookie running back Sony Michel, who should be a dynamic player in the Patriots’ passing game as well as their rushing attack.

There surely is a feeling among players and coaches at Patriots OTAs that something big is missing. I always felt that way whenever a star player of ours was not on the field due to a contract dispute, a personal issues or an injury. The young Patriots want to meet and work with the legendary QB they have watched and admired.

Brady is a player who has always been involved in New England’s offseason program. He has said “everything is important — OTAs, minicamp, training camp” in building a foundation for the season.

Now Brady’s (public) excuse is he needs family and rejuvenation time. I’m not buying that, and neither are Patriots owner Robert Kraft or coach Bill Belichick.

There is a lot more going on here.

Not to be dismissed is the story that claimed Belichick last season was restricting access of Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, which reportedly peeved Brady. I believe there was plenty of fire causing the smoke that was that story. Brady also can’t be happy about the departures of Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis in free agency, plus the trade of left tackle Nate Solder.

Brady has been sending mixed messages this offseason. “I plead the Fifth,” he said earlier this month when asked whether he feels appreciated by the Patriots. His follow-up to that quote — “Everybody in general wants to be more appreciated at work. (Belichick) is not the easiest coach to play for, (but) he’s an incredible coach, we’ve had a great relationship and he’s the best for me.” — got less attention.

Then there’s the money, something of which Brady has plenty but apparently is seeking more. His contract situation has always been a fascinating topic. He has accepted lower salaries over the years to help the team sign quality players, a strategy that has paid off in Super Bowl appearances and victories.

Brady has two years remaining on a $20.5 million-per-year deal that will him $15 million in salary and roster bonus this season. Matt Ryan is making more with his recently signed $30 million-per-year deal, as is Brady’s former backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, with his $27.5 million-per-year deal.

Brady in the past has had his contract addressed with two years remaining, and on principle, he surely doesn’t want to be so far below the highest-paid QBs. His agent Don Yee probably wouldn’t mind his 3 percent commission to come off a higher salary, either. With something in the $25 million-$30 million range, the team would still get Brady at a discount.

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Perhaps Brady will show up soon with a new deal. Or maybe, extension in hand or not, he will gather all his skill-position teammates for a passing camp independent from the team and then report to camp later this summer.

Regardless, if Brady is absent for mandatory minicamp June 5-7, the storm clouds will become even more ominous.

Kraft is a great owner and operator who might be able calm the waters surrounding his QB. If not, this offseason drama could be the latest hint that the successful marriage of team and player could end long before Brady’s self-proclaimed goal of playing five more years. And he could — gasp — finish his career elsewhere.

Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on Negotiation and Sports Business/Sports Management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.

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