Tom Brady is down to his final legal straw in an effort to reverse a four-game suspension, and among the myriad factors he must consider is how best to reflect his long-held allegiance to the team concept. What is the best team play for Brady, who never misses a chance to note that his job is to "help the team win"?
Is it to give up his legal fight, accept the suspension during an advantageous segment of the New England Patriots' schedule and trust teammate Jimmy Garoppolo to do the job? Or is to continue modeling a never-quit attitude and keep fighting because -- regardless of Garoppolo's aptitude -- it is Brady who gives the Patriots their best chance to win games?
I would suggest it's the former, especially given the widely held assumption that the suspension ultimately will stand at some point. But I understand if Brady is struggling with the latter because this decision isn't as binary as one might think.
First, it would be difficult to separate legal capitulation from an admission of a role in deflating footballs. Second, Brady knows that sometimes, doing what's best for the team requires an individualist's mindset.
Speaking at a symposium in 2013, none other than Patriots coach Bill Belichick described the "fine line between doing what's best for the team and your individual performance." While there is no "I" in team, Belichick noted, there is one in "win."
"[T]he individual performance of each of those people is what determines whether we can win the game," Belichick said. "We can all stand around in the locker room and hold hands and chant 'Team! Team! Team!' all day and that isn't going to do anything. We have to go out there and individually perform. There is a balance there."
Yes, it would be easy to tell Brady to pass on filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. We are all weary of Deflategate, its repercussions and its consequences. Should he drop his efforts, the mess would finally be over. Its true winners and losers were decided long ago, and the NFL has absorbed plenty of criticism. Anyone who has followed the story knows there is no direct evidence of Brady's guilt.
If Brady were to appeal, receive a stay and ultimately lose the case -- his best-case scenario, many believe -- the Patriots could lose him in the middle of a playoff push. If Brady chose not to appeal, Garoppolo, a much-praised prospect who has never taken a meaningful NFL snap, would have the comfort of making three of his four starts at home in Gillette Stadium. (Since 2001, the Patriots have by far the NFL's best winning percentage at home: .842.) Additionally, the Patriots would have a personnel certainty rather than needing to project multiple scenarios at quarterback.
All told, these assumptions appear smart, and there is no reason to doubt Brady's commitment to putting his team first. At the one moment when most players act selfishly -- in contract negotiations -- Brady consistently has accepted less than what he could have pushed for. It's part of the reason he has received about $90 million less thus far in his career than Peyton Manning, the player closest to his equal.
Brady could make a credible argument that what's absolutely best for the Patriots is for him to start all 16 games this season. Giving up would be comparable to taking himself out of a game. But in this legal contest, Brady's team is trailing by three touchdowns with a minute remaining. It's all but over. Of the practical scenarios remaining, bowing out would help his team the most. He should do it.