By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady’s gone. The greatest of all time was shown the door. Thanks for the memories, enjoy Central Florida.

Kind of weird, innit?

Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have obviously been run … uniquely. It’s worked out pretty well. There are six reminders of that success plastered above the video board in the south end zone at Gillette Stadium.

So from that perspective, it is perhaps not exactly the proper time to light your hair on fire and run around your lovely New England neighborhood. Maybe Bill’s got a tremendous master plan to ensure stability for years to come.

Yet … yet … Brady can still play. He’ll forever be known as the greatest.

Wouldn’t you think the Patriots might have wanted to keep him … just a little bit?

Make no mistake here: Tom Brady’s departure was not Tom Brady’s decision. Going back to last summer — and really going back to the spring of 2014 — Belichick has let Tom know more and more that the team didn’t need him. Not for very long anyway.

My guy Tom E. Curran did a whole lot of reporting on this thing. All angles. Always working that cellular telephone of his. You likely encountered his work. Once Brady finally announced that he was heading out of town, Curran summed it up perfectly:

He decided to leave the same way a person “decides” to get out of the car when it pulls into the driveway, is put into park and the engine is turned off. Ride’s over. Time to get out.

Even more telling was Field Yates’ report last week, certain parts of which read like a direct copy-and-paste from Belichick. Specifically the part that I’ve bolded:

During last training camp, Brady and the Patriots discussed a new deal, including a multi-year extension. Brady’s preference was to not add any years to his deal and include a no-tag provision in his deal to ensure him the right to test the market if he desired. Early in camp, the Patriots gave Brady his request for total freedom after 2019. Brady now has that opportunity to be a free agent.

Many have wondered when the Patriots will make their offer to retain Brady, something that they did in August already. In essence, the next step is Brady conveying what he wants in a new deal from the Patriots, not the other way around, as the team has previously presented him an offer, but Brady wanted to test the market, which [he] has now has the chance to do. The chance for Brady to return to New England is of course possible, but an important step in that process is an understanding for the team of what Brady is seeking in a new deal.

In other words: We made him an offer last summer. It still stands.

That offer, in case you weren’t following, was one that Brady rejected in August. And it was that rejection that led to this current situation in the first place. So acting like the onus fell on Brady to initiate contract talks? It’s disingenuous at best, disrespectful at worst.

Of course, the summer of 2019 and the spring of 2020 were not the first occurrences of the Patriots (Belichick) gently reminding Tom that the end was coming.

For starters, go back to the spring of 2017. Tom Brady was fresh off the 28-3 comeback. It was the most incredible feat a quarterback has ever accomplished. He was feeling his absolute best, both physically and mentally.

He then went out and had one of the very finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career: a league-leading 4,577 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Patriots went 13-3. He was named MVP at age 40. His postseason was flat-out ridiculous: 1,132 yards in three games, eight touchdowns, zero picks. They would have won the Super Bowl (and Brady would have won his fifth Super Bowl MVP), but Belichick benched Malcolm Butler and the Patriots gave up 41 points to the Eagles.

After proving to the world that he wasn’t your normal 40-year-old quarterback, it was time to give Brady a new contract, one that showed that the team believed in the quarterback.

Instead, he got an incentive-laden deal. Coming off an MVP season, the Patriots told Brady that he’d have to dance for his dinner.

With the going rate for top quarterbacks moving toward $30 million a year, Brady was due to earn half that. He could bump it up by $5 million if he finished in the top five in passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, or passing yards.

Suffice it to say, Belichick was not buying into the magic of the TB12 lifestyle.

Brady didn’t hit those incentives, in large part due to the Patriots’ running game functioning as one of the best in the league. They did win the Super Bowl, thanks to some otherworldly clutch drives on the road in the freezing cold in the AFC title game, and thanks to (ho-hum) another game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. The Patriots’ lone touchdown was set up by a piece of artwork painted by Brady and Rob Gronkowski:

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Another Super Bowl for Brady.

Another lowball offer for Brady.

Again, the Patriots do business their way, and it works. But that doesn’t really apply to this situation, does it? If this was smart business, then why would the Patriots be saddled with $13.5 million of Brady money against their cap this year, as he heads south to swash some buckles with Bruce Arians?

No, the “offer” last summer — which came only after Brady had to half-jokingly plead with the media to ask Kraft for a new deal — gave Brady a little pay bump to $23 million, but it also delivered a loud and clear message: We don’t trust you for more than one year.

That’s actually just how Belichick described the Patriots’ attitude toward Brady in 2017:

“When a player gets to a certain point in his career, and that varies from player to player and position to position, I look at those as at some point, it becomes year-to-year. … Trying to predict [how an older player will maintain] is not something – I don’t think it’s easy. It’s not something I try to do a lot of. I look at it as year-to-year. I learned that a long time ago, and I’d say that advice has served me well.”

Those were Bill Belichick’s comments after the team traded Jimmy Garoppolo. That was a deal that seemed to indicate that the Patriots would be sticking with Brady for years to come.

Nope. Year to year. Can’t predict it.

That’s rough.

Really, the gentle nudging out the door can be traced back to the 2014 draft, when Belichick not only used a second-round pick on a handsome devil named Jimmy G. but also threw out a “Tom’s age and contract situation” line when explaining why he invested that type of draft capital in a quarterback.

We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. That was a shot across the bow. Brady responded with probably the best five-year stretch of his career.

Alas, it wasn’t enough.

For six years running, the Patriots (Belichick) have seemingly made it a point to send a message to Brady: We don’t trust you. We don’t want you long term. We’re waiting for you to tumble off that cliff. It’s going to happen and we don’t want to be left holding the bag.

And now, he finally left.

Brady had accepted these conditions for so long that when he finally called Belichick to inform him that he was going to leave the Patriots, Belichick was reportedly “a little shocked.”

Turns out, the only expiration date for Brady involved his willingness to put up with not being wanted. After five years of fighting it, Brady was going to head to a team where the head coach has been actively campaigning to sign him — tampering rules be damned.

And now the Patriots’ 2020 starting quarterback is … well, nobody quite knows.

Perhaps Belichick has a genius plan that he’s just waiting to enact. But looking at the list of possibilities — from Jarrett Stidham to Cam Newton to Jacoby Brissett to ANDY DALTON (!) to Nick Foles or a 2020 draft pick — it’s currently hard to see exactly what that master plan might be.

And it’s even harder say that it’ll be better than having Tom Brady.

It’s all just strange.

Brady is almost universally regarded as the best to ever do it. That’s in large part due to his late-career surge, during which he made four Super Bowls, winning three and setting records in the other.

Through all of that success, the Patriots have resisted making real commitments to the man responsible for their unprecedented run of success over two decades.

And down to the end, after enduring a season with no protection and few open receivers, Brady was left once again to not feel wanted.

The Patriots (Belichick) didn’t really want Tom Brady that much. Over the course of five years, they made that clear. Now, Brady finally obliged them.

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Would any other team have treated the greatest of all time the same way? Probably not. Does any other team have six Super Bowl wins and nine conference championships since 2001? Nope.

Still. It’s all quite weird.

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

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