Passive-aggressive behavior of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is setting up a cold, silent ending

When the story dropped this week about Tom Brady’s latest Los Angeles-related venture, it thumped into the free agency grist mill like a tactically lobbed hand grenade — just six days from the legal tampering window for NFL teams and right into the center of see-sawing rumors about the future plans of the iconic New England Patriots quarterback.

The timing, as with so many recent incidents that have stoked Brady speculation, was impeccable and impossibly coincidental.

The 199 Productions announcement, which rolled out in the Hollywood-centric media outlet Deadline, had a familiar and very planned residue to it. Just days from his prospective freedom as a football player, Brady posted an image of the story on his Instagram, giving a little wink toward Los Angeles in the middle of a coming courtship that will most certainly involve the Chargers. So Brady is going into the content business and it’s going to have a Hollywood orbit. What a shocking development to learn on the doorstep of Brady’s pending free agency (insert eye-roll).

And lest we forget, this comes a little over a week after Brady and Patriots wideout Julian Edelman were conveniently “caught” (in the middle of a packed Syracuse basketball crowd) FaceTiming with Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel. The same Vrabel who is both a close friend of Brady and another highly speculated free agent suitor in the coming days.

We can see these kinds of things as turns of chance, or we can see them as extensions of a player who seems to say a lot without ever using words. The guy who structured his last contract to void his way to free agency, then subsequently put his $39 million house on the market. The guy who had little to say about the Patriots’ messy ending with wideout Antonio Brown, then proceeded to publicly cheerlead for Brown on social media for months (all while New England’s passing offense was coming apart at the seams). And going back to March 2018, the guy who rarely expressed his football frustrations as succinctly as his wife, Gisele Bündchen, did in the finale of the “Tom vs. Time” documentary, when she made a statement that seems to still echo: “These last two years have been very challenging for him in so many ways. And I think he just wants — he tells me, ‘I love it so much and I just want to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.’”

Tom Brady figures out a way to say a lot. Sometimes by his own actions and sometimes by allowing the actions of people around him to stand as a message. And that’s part of the problem that’s happening now. Because when you speak to sources that have relationships with Brady and Bill Belichick, it’s not hard to see where this impasse is coming from.

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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick through the years
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick through the years
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 18: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds a sideline meeting with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe during the fourth quarter of Saturday's NFL preseason game with the Carolina Panthers played in Charlotte. (Photo by John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick (R) after their win over the St. Louis Rams 03 February, 2002 in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17 for the NFL championship. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
Head coach Bill Belichick and the coaching staff give frantic last second instructions to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the final drive of the game vs. the Chicago Bears 11/10/2002. Brady went on to throw a 20 yd. touchdown pass to wide receiver David Patten to beat the Bears 33-30.� Don Lansu. (Photo by Don Lansu/Getty Images)
NFL Football - New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady against Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Penn., on Jan. 25, 2005. Patriots won 41-27. (Photo by Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, UNITED STATES: Head coach Bill Belichick (L) of the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady (R) talk 06 February 2005 after winning the Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 to win their second straight Super Bowl and third in four years. AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick celebrate after 24-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers in AFC Divisional Playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif. on Sunday, January 14, 2007. (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH - OCTOBER 20: During the Patriots practice on the practice field at Gillette Stadium, coach Bill Belichick (left) talks with Tom Brady. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick hugs Tom Brady (#12) after winning the game against Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick applauded New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (#12) after Brady's touchdown pass to New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (#85) in the fourth quarter as the Patriots took on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots confers with Tom Brady #12 during a time out in the 2nd half in a game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 07: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hits a tee shot on the 13th hole as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks on during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on February 7, 2014 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 14: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick share a moment as the final seconds tick off the clock in their victory, which gave them their 6th straight AFC East title. The New England Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins in a regular season NFL game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12, team owner Robert Kraft, and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws the first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks on from left at Fenway Park on April 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 25: With only three days off between games, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (rear) and head coach Bill Belichick (front) will have very little time to get ready for Thursday night's game against the Dolphins. Here they are pictured on the sidelines during Sunday's game against the New York Jets in a regular season NFL football game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts with head coach Bill Belichick during the fourth quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady #12 stand onstage during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate a 34-28 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
BOSTON - FEBRUARY 7: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady raises a Lombardi Trophy during the rally in City Hall Plaza following the Patriots Super Bowl LI Victory Parade in Boston on Feb. 7, 2017. Head coach Bill Belichick is behind him. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 31: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady #12 chat before a preseason game with the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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When it comes to committing to each other in 2020 and beyond, the communication between Brady and Belichick is slamming into a forcefield of passive aggression. This is why so much of the insight about the pair in the past month has circled on how they’re speaking — or not speaking — to each other.

Belichick is treating this like a business decision and looking at Brady like a guy who asked for this situation. And Brady is looking back and wanting something beyond respect and a pay bump. Maybe it’s to hear Belichick say he wants or needs Brady. Maybe it’s just to feel some sense of appreciation that isn’t always obvious. Or maybe it’s just to feel like Belichick is actually hearing Brady at all.

To accomplish that, you have to actually speak to each other with a willingness to say clearly how you feel and what you want. It can’t be one guy building the bridge to communicate while the other watches. If they want to continue to work together, they both have to start on their opposing shores and build their half of the bridge toward each other.

That means Tom Brady needs to be willing to articulate to Belichick precisely what he wants — contractually, emotionally, psychologically, whatever. If he needs $30 million a year, say it. If he wants Belichick to make some kind of emotional purchase into who Brady is as a person, lay it out.

Conversely, Belichick has to be willing to hear Brady and explain clearly what he’s willing to do or not do. If it’s just about the economics of football and being his coach, that has to be put into words. If Brady is nothing but a spoke on a wheel, then make it clear and be done with it.

If Brady and the Patriots are going to stay together, what can’t happen is the scenario playing out right now. The one where neither side is really saying anything directly or clearly to the other, while both wait for some kind of extended hand of diplomacy that isn’t coming. All while Belichick shrugs and Brady keeps telegraphing the parts of his life that align in locales outside of Massachusetts.

If that’s the permanent track here — if they’re stuck in this zone of passive-aggressive, staring-but-saying-nothing — then Brady is going to end up entering free agency. And there will be teams willing to whisper all the sweet nothings that Belichick won’t. They’ll also pay more money than the Patriots, too, with every day going forward standing as Tom Brady Appreciation Day.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers will do that. Maybe the Titans and San Francisco 49ers would be on board with it, too. Make no mistake, one of those four teams — or maybe all of them — are positioned to step in between Brady and Belichick. If the Patriots weren’t in serious peril of having this dynamic and historic pairing come to an end a few weeks ago, the franchise is there now. It’s to the point where everyone involved needs to say whatever is still meaningful, or this is going to end in the worst way possible.

In unimaginable and indefensible silence.

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