Little by little, it adds up. One day of missing a team training program is becoming a longer absence. The time out is being spent with an enemy of the team. Another star contemplates retirement, and in the meantime will not approach the team, as long as it is not mandatory.
And within the rigid and strictly controlled system that Bill Belichick dominates, cracks appear.
Drama, as always seems to be around the Patriots, resides in subtlety. The latest passive aggression is an ESPN report that Tom Brady will not be a "regular participant" in the team's off-season program, even after he returns from his trip to Qatar. The trip, for his charity, was his reason for missing the start of the optional program, an absence that will now extend beyond a day.
It's not just that Brady stays away from the team, it's who he's hanging out with. According to the report, he will train with Alex Guerrero, the controversial coach behind TB1
And now Brady seems to be going backwards. As can be the tight end Rob Gronkowski, himself a fan of the methods of Guerrero, who is not present at the beginning of training for the Patriots. Gronkowski stays away as he contemplates his future, a surprising move for a 28-year-old at the best moment of his career. But he's dealt with injuries, and the way the Patriots are wearing him out. Part of the Patriots style is the low season program; Sure, the program is optional, but only in name.
"There are some teams where it's not a big deal if the boys miss part of the offseason program," wrote Ross Tucker, now with NBCSN and a Belichick Patriot in 2005. on Twitter. "New England is not one of them."
It's not the first time that Brady will miss at least part of the offseason program, but it's the first time in eight years.
"We have the voluntary off-season program that starts on Monday," Belichick told reporters last week. "It will be very busy, but I know there are a couple of players that I've talked to who have other commitments, but that's the way things always are, so there's really nothing new there."
Except that the two best players on the team are not present when the team meets.