Tuesday, June 25

Patriots ‘Dynasty’ documentary reveals how bad Brady-Belichick relationship had gotten

In the video, Tom Brady sits with his legs crossed and looks into the camera. He’s trying to express just how bad things had gotten between him and Bill Belichick in the late 2010s, toward the end of their 20-year run together with the New England Patriots.

By now, everyone knows how that time ended — with Brady fleeing the often-miserable ship Belichick presided over for greener pastures in Tampa Bay. Belichick didn’t offer the two-year, $50 million contract Brady wanted, one that would have given the legendary quarterback the stability he sought. For years, that has been viewed as the main reason Brady didn’t return to the Patriots.

But as part of a new 10-episode documentary on the Patriots dynasty, Brady makes clear his departure had more to do with who was coaching the team than the amount of money he was offered.

“Me and coach Belichick, we did what we loved and competed for 20 years together,” Brady said. “But I wasn’t going to sign another contract (in New England) even if I wanted to play until (I was) 50. Based on how things had gone, I wasn’t going to sign up for more of it.”

On Friday, Apple TV+ is unveiling “The Dynasty,” a lengthy documentary with two episodes dropping every Friday for the next five weeks. It’s proclaimed to be a look at the Patriots between 2000 and 2020, and it covers Brady’s rise to prominence after Drew Bledsoe’s injury, how the Pats navigated three Super Bowls in four years, the controversies that followed and how a second dynasty grew before eventually tumbling amid fractured relationships. Those early episodes are worthwhile for Patriots fans who want to relive the early years of the dynasty. And the middle episodes are worthwhile for Patriots haters who want to revel in some new details about Spygate, Deflategate and the team’s other indiscretions.

But more than anything, the documentary feels like a referendum on how bad the Brady-Belichick relationship got and why it never had a storybook ending with the two riding off together into the sunset. Even though the interviews were conducted months before the Patriots split with Belichick, the subjects in it — including Brady, Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and nearly every well-known Patriots player over the last two decades (except, notably, Jerod Mayo) — speak openly about the all-encompassing, dictatorial style with which Belichick ran the Patriots.

Players, including several still on the roster, disclose just how difficult it was playing for Belichick. “It was brutal,” Matthew Slater said. Rob Gronkowski described pulling up to 1 Patriot Place and not wanting to get out of his car to go into work. Wes Welker compared Brady to an abused dog for continually going back to work for Belichick.

ESPN made local headlines last month when a story following Belichick’s departure from the Patriots quoted someone referring to this forthcoming documentary as an “infomercial” for Kraft’s Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy. This documentary, which The Athletic was allowed to screen for this review, is not that. It’s much more focused on the relationship between Brady and Belichick and, in totality, it’s the most comprehensive view yet of how miserable people in the building were in the final years of their dynasty. Or at least that’s the juiciest, most interesting part.


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The first few episodes touch on the start of the Patriots dynasty. It’s still interesting all these years later to hear from Bledsoe and Brady about that injury-sparked transition, even if those early episodes won’t yield many headlines. The middle episodes (specifically the fourth, sixth and seventh) focus on Spygate, Aaron Hernandez’s arrest and Deflategate, respectively. There are captivating moments in those too, including a re-enactment from Robyn Glaser (who was recently named the Patriots’ executive vice president of football business and senior advisor to the head coach) of smashing the Spygate tapes with a hammer.

Those early episodes are worthwhile for fans who want to relive the glory days, and the middle ones are interesting, even if the series slowed down and occasionally dragged a bit in those parts. The documentary, it should be noted, doesn’t get into Belichick’s departure from the team last month or Mayo’s promotion to head coach via Kraft’s little-known succession plan.



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For football fans less inclined to enjoy the shots of confetti falling on the Patriots, the documentary really picks up steam over the last four episodes when examining the splintering of Brady and Belichick’s relationship.

Brady, even while dodging a couple of the more pointed topics brought up by Emmy-winning director Matthew Hamachek — who also directed HBO’s Tiger Woods documentary in 2021 — is more blunt than usual. So is Kraft. Belichick, predictably, doesn’t say much. Perhaps his most interesting comment comes when dodging a question from Hamachek about why Malcolm Butler was benched in Super Bowl LII.

“Matt, we’ve talked about that,” Belichick says without any further explanation, implying some kind of agreement between the coach and director about avoiding that topic.

Former teammates, and occasionally Kraft too, are the ones who speak most directly about how bad the relationship between Brady and Belichick was. They describe a hostile work environment and miserable atmosphere inside the team’s headquarters.

The payoff from those final four episodes makes the overview of the Patriots from 2000 to 2015 worthwhile. The ending may not be enjoyable for Patriots fans. It leaves one with a feeling of what could’ve been had Belichick’s style been a bit different or had Brady been willing to deal with it a bit longer.

But on the whole, the documentary is gripping and a worthwhile watch, one that reveals how bad things had gotten with the Patriots before Brady’s departure.

As Kraft says, “Tom and I had a number of discussions about how Bill treated him. Tommy is very sensitive. He was always looking for Bill’s approval, almost in a father-son kind of way. And that’s not Bill’s style ever to give that.”



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(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)