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Hurley: Tom Brady's Pleading Of The Fifth May Not Signal Armageddon, But It Is Indicative Of Ongoing Disagreement

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Tom Brady spoke on Monday, which invariably means his words will be interpreted hundreds of different ways by millions of different people. Finding the true, root meaning of all of his comments can be a challenge, but in the meanwhile Boston sports radio has just been gifted hours, or perhaps days, or more likely weeks of free content. (Oh, who's kidding who, here? This will provide months of fodder.)

The comments sure to be most scrutinized came after Brady was asked by old pal Jim Gray whether or not he feels as though his bosses properly appreciate him for all that he does for the New England Patriots.

"I plead the Fifth," Brady robotically played to the crowd at the Milken Institute Global Conference. "Man, that is a tough question. Yeah, I mean, they appreciate ... I think everybody in general wants to be appreciated more in general at work."

Brady would go on to say that Bill Belichick is not only the "best coach in the history of the NFL" but also "the best for me" because the coach has a tremendous ability to maximize talent.

"There's no people I'd rather play for or be committed to than the team that I've been with for a long time," Brady said rather definitively.

While his laudatory comments for Belichick do help keep this situation contained, the pleading the Fifth part is still a significant tell that Brady remains bothered by certain conditions at Gillette Stadium. And he's doing all that he can to let them be known without presenting himself as someone who's overtly complaining.

Look at this this way: For year -- years -- nobody in America has been better at speaking without actually saying anything than Tom Brady. The man can step to a podium, answer every question thrown at him, and walk off the podium while making everyone in the room feel like something happened. Only later will those people have realized that nothing at all was really said.

It's a skill, and it's why so many people believed Brady could one day explore and succeed with a career in politics. He is a 6-foot-4 pile of diplomacy. (Also a very good quarterback.)

So for Brady to not actually plead the Fifth but to instead demonstratively plead the Fifth for effect, it is telling. It's telling that something is bothering him enough to break character, even if it's just a slight change of course.

Think back to January, when the big ESPN/Seth Wickersham article hit the internet and started this whole snowball. It was as salacious a story as there could be, one that suggested the clash of egos among Brady, Belichick and Robert Kraft was so significant that 2017 could very well be the final chapter in that marvelous trio's history together. It was the talk of the sports world, and it was certainly the most dominant storyline in Boston.

When Brady was asked about that story on the radio (by Gray, of course), he said, "My relationships with everybody that I deal with I feel are so positive. To think anything differently of that is complete nonsense."

Again, that is: "Complete. Nonsense."

When he finally took the podium a week after the story broke, Brady was asked if the negative attention can be a distraction. He replied, "Not to us players. We do what we always do."

In other words: Nothing to see here. You're not getting anything out of me. We've got a game to win.

This made sense because for one, this was Brady, the master of saying nothing. But more importantly, it was the middle of the postseason. Mr. I'm Willing To Climb A Mountain And Kill A Wolf With My Bare Hands If It's What I Have To Do To Win A Football Game Brady is not going to contribute to the gossipy mayhem that can surround the Patriots if he's got playoff games to deal with.

But at the same time, Brady was bringing camera crews into Gillette Stadium with him to not-at-all subtly record the fact that he had to jump through a few hoops in his private stadium suite just to get a pregame rubdown from his trainer/guru/business partner Alex Guerrero before the aforementioned playoff games. When the scene of Brady trying to hang towels for privacy before helping to slide the heavy massage table to an uncomfortable corner near the bathroom made the final cut of "Tom Vs. Time," it was no accident. The scene of Guerrero in a Montana cabin explaining that he's "not an anti-weight guy" was likewise an intentional inclusion in the docuseries. And when Gisele Bundchen spoke to the camera in one of the final scenes of "Tom Vs. Time"  to say that her husband wants to feel appreciated at work (in a not-at-all scripted moment of reality television, to be sure), it was a carefully included clip in a 14-minute episode.

Brady may not be shouting from the rooftops that he's rip-roaring mad. He won't be holding any T.O.-style press conferences while doing situps in his driveway. Because maybe he's not that angry. (Hey, the golden boy with the rocket arm and the Super Bowl trophies and the nice family and the piles of cash and the legions of adoring fans did admit to Gray that he has his moments of happiness. So there is hope for us the rest of us.)

But when you look at everything from the past four months, it's not that hard to connect the dots. The whole diet/training/lifestyle dedication that is The TB12 Method is extremely important to Brady. For one, he truly believes it is what allows him to put together MVP seasons at age 40 and what gives him faith that he can maintain that level through his mid-40s. Think just about that one goal. Playing at a high level through age 45 is something that no other quarterback has ever done in history. Not once. Brady is fully confident he can do it. That's how much he believes in his workout program and diet. It is very much a part of his life.

Now, despite the obvious on-field results that such training methods have helped produce on the field, Belichick clearly remains less of a devotee to the TB12 Method. For one, the man has his own training staff, one employed by the team. Keeping a team on message and pulling at the same end of the rope (to borrow a trite coaching cliche) is an important part of leading a team. Having a segment of the roster -- whether it's 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent of the players -- doing "their own thing," so to speak, makes life difficult for a head coach.

And that's all without delving into Belichick's likely reluctance to allow too much of a connection with Guerrero, given his background of making claims of curing cancer to sell a product ... as well as pretending to be a doctor. The Patriots often come under intense scrutiny of the league for various offenses -- small, big, or imaginary -- and making formal ties with a person carrying that baggage is likely undesirable for Belichick.

It's a delicate balance, one which Belichick upset in December when he "stripped Guerrero of his special team privileges." That meant no more flying with the team, no more sideline access, and no more special office inside Gillette Stadium to treat players. As we ended up seeing in "Tom Vs. Time," it also meant that even the most important player in franchise history would have to schlep up to the club level for a non-private massage before a playoff game.

That's enough to bother Brady. And through various methods, he's done what he can to try to make that as clear as possible. To reiterate, the displeasure doesn't necessarily rise to the level of DEFCON 1. But the fact that Brady is saying anything other than "that story is complete nonsense and we're just focused on winning games" shows that the quarterback remains at the very least perturbed with the impasse regarding one of the most important parts of his life.

Ultimately, based on all the other things Brady said, and based on Brady's reiterated plans to play for the next several years for the New England Patriots, it does appear to be a workable situation. A middle ground can likely be found for something this important to Brady, and Belichick might be amenable to a solution that is not hastily decided upon late in a season. It's an issue, but it's not a franchise-crippling issue that some have made it out to be.

But to be clear, Brady wanted to send a message. The easiest way to plead the Fifth is to actually plead the Fifth and remain silent. Making a spectacle out of it is sure to draw attention every time.

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

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