"It's fun winning football games."
That quote is some iteration of how New England Patriots players respond when asked if they enjoy being part of the "Patriot way" that Bill Belichick has installed during his time as head coach of the Patriots.
When you play for New England, it's about winning football games and what your job is in order to accomplish that goal. Everything else is a far away runner-up.
Is it the best way to go about your time as a professional football player? Some will say no. There's an excitement surrounding the fact that most NFL players have the freedom embrace the spotlight that has been bestowed upon them. It's a way for them to express themselves and promote their brand. But Patriots players don't get too fully embrace the spotlight like other players around the league do.
However, the strict guideline - which was etched by Belichick - has formed the team-first mentality the Patriots have displayed over the past two decades. It also kept them on track for a historic run of success that we have never and may never see again in the history of the NFL.
But that doesn't mean it's fun for everyone involved.
Take Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for example. Brady after two decades with the team decided it was time for a change, which is why he departed this offseason to sign with the Buccaneers. Days after he signed with Tampa Bay he went on Howard Stern's radio show and showed a more open and honest side of himself than we ever saw from Brady when he was a Patriot.
Gronkowski called it quits last offseason. He said it was time for him to rest and recover after an eight-year career in New England, which was filled with numerous injuries that could have an impact on him for the rest of his life. And yet one year later he un-retires and is traded to the Buccaneers so he can catch passes from his old friend.
Why were both players - who had Hall of Fame careers in New England and multiple Super Bowl championships - so willing to put the Patriots in their rear-view mirror?
Maybe it wasn't fun anymore.
As players that were under Bill Belichick's regime for a long time, one has to think that Brady and Gronkowski wanted to figure out if the grass was greener on the other side. In this case the "other side" was playing for another NFL team. Brady did the leg work this offseason to figure out which team was the best fit for him, he reportedly told the Buccaneers that he wanted Gronkowski to play for Tampa Bay as well, and then Gronk jumped ship in Foxboro to join the 42-year-old QB in Florida.
Bruce Arians is not Bill Belichick. Tampa Bay's head coach is a "player's coach" and is very open with the media about how he runs the ship in Tampa Bay. Players can seemingly be themselves more when they play for the Buccaneers as opposed to the Patriots, who have a strict standards to uphold too. That must have seemed enticing to Brady, which is why he signed with Tampa Bay and then Gronkowski followed suit.
The Patriots didn't really have a say in the matter because of the financial implications involved in Gronkowski's official retirement or him returning to football, so they shipped him away from a 4th round pick. While getting compensation for a player that isn't playing is always a plus, one has to think that Brady would have stayed with the Patriots - which in turn would have kept Gronkowski in New England - if it was a little more fun.
Bill Belichick doesn't look like he plans on changing the way he runs things in New England, and he shouldn't. But the tough standards he has for everyone on his football team may have been why two of the greatest players in the history of the NFL didn't want to play for him anymore.