By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — For the better part of two decades, the offseason work and dedication shown by Patriots players has become a part of the legend of this dynasty. Nobody embodied that spirit more than Tom Brady. He would lead by example by putting in more work than anybody. Even after winning a Super Bowl MVP and becoming a world-famous megastar, he’d be in the weight room, putting in the work, earning a preferred parking spot and always working to impress his teammates.

That was an important, critical aspect of not only Brady but the Patriots’ philosophy in general. That is … until it wasn’t anymore.

Brady has not been present for the Patriots’ voluntary workouts this offseason (perhaps you had heard?). Of course, nobody in the world thinks Brady is hanging out on his couch, eating Funyuns and binging “Arrested Development” episodes in an anticipatory buildup to the Season 5 premiere on May 29. This is a man who brings his helmet and shoulder pads so that he can run around like a little kid while on vacation in some tropical rain forest with Gisele. He’s a guy who does this …

… which, despite the aforementioned helmet and shoulder pads, seems very dangerous!

Nobody needs to worry about his cardiovascular health.

But of course, the fact that Brady’s absence follows an offseason of reported turmoil between him and Bill Belichick over the role and presence of trainer Alex Guerrero does add a level of import to the situation. Will the skipping of a few weeks of workouts hurt Brady and the production of the Patriots’ offense this coming fall? Well, no. But if we all spewed all that stuff for 20 years about how important these days are to the success of the Patriots, then we can’t really sit here now and say it’s actually not all important, right?

We are, though, just people on the outside. Those who would know much more — about the program, about Brady, and about Brady’s leadership and influence up and down the roster — have been weighing in with some opinions that may not remain wholly consistent with so much of the folklore surrounding the Patriots’ dynasty. But if any player would qualify for an occasional exception, it would be Tom Brady.

That’s at least what former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham told ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

“It’s not even a question of preparing your body, but psychologically, Tom is in uncharted waters,” said Chatham, who won three Super Bowls in his six seasons with the Patriots and whose first season in New England aligned with Brady’s. “Tom lives in a different universe than everybody else because he’s done something different than any player has [at age 40].”

Rob Ninkovich, a linebacker who played with Brady more recently, shared a similar thought — but Ninkovich did suggest that Brady will have to show up soon.

“I think the Tom thing is a little overblown,” Ninkovich told Reiss. “But if he doesn’t show up for the OTA/minicamp part of it, that’s probably more of an issue because then guys aren’t taking reps [with him]. You’d have Brian Hoyer taking all the first-team reps, and that’s not an ideal situation that you’d want going into training camp.”

Former Patriots tackle Matt Light, who played with Brady from 2001-11, told the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian that Brady’s absence not only is not a bad thing for the Patriots but that it might actually bring about some positive results.

“If for nothing else, it’s going to force some other guys to be a little more vocal, or pick up where Tommy might have been out there leading the charge,” Light told Guregian. “But I don’t see any issue or problem. Tom Brady doesn’t need to have the offseason workouts and face time in that facility at this point in his career. He’s earned the right.”

Even when he’s not there to lead, Brady is inspiring leadership on the Patriots.

Former safety-turned-national-analyst Rodney Harrison likewise downplayed the absence of the franchise’s most important player.

“I think he has to do what’s best for him,” Harrison, who gave Brady fits at Patriots practices from 2003-08, said to Guregian. “If that means staying away from voluntary camp, and that means spending time with his family, and doing some of those type of things, I think he’s earned that in his career. I think he’s earned that leverage, and I think it’s smart of him to do that. … I think it’s the smart thing to do if that’s what he feels like he has to do. He’ll be in a better place mentally. … If he feels like he has to take more time to get rejuvenated, to get peace of mind, whatever else that brings to him, he has to do whatever he has to do. That’s the No. 1 thing.”

The message from all four former Patriots is pretty similar: It’s not a big deal for Brady to miss offseason workouts. He’s earned that right. He and the Patriots will probably end up being better off for it. And, hey, they’re all being pretty reasonable. A maniacal worker like Brady probably does need to let off the gas pedal a little bit after seven straight seasons lasted through either late January or early February. Plus, Brady doesn’t need to lead by example by earning that parking spot for his offseason workouts; he’s already done that. His entire career path can serve as an example for any young player looking for a road map to success. That young player doesn’t need to see Brady doing push-ups in May in order to get the picture.

For now, it appears as though the stressed importance of offseason workouts through all of these years might have been slightly overvalued by those of us on the outside. Former players who were in the system for many years would know better than anyone.

But if Brady does decide to skip out on OTAs, which begin May 21, last through mid-June, and include mandatory minicamp? Then we would have to check back in with those in the know to understand if those practices are also not quite as meaningful as they’ve been made out to be over the years.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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