We’ve finally reached a breaking point in this New England Patriots offseason of discontent.

The negative vibe, the depressing noise, surrounding the NFL’s marquee franchise is finally hurting the brand. In a world where most pro sports teams spend the offseason promoting and polishing their product for prospective clients, this is all just, well, bad.

Tom Brady may not play?

Rob Gronkowski may jump into a professional wrestling ring?

Brady and Gronk – two of the three highest-paid players on the team – are upset with their contracts?

Too many players own lingering bitter feelings toward Coach Bill Belichick because his ego wouldn’t let him insert Malcolm Butler into the lineup in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles?

Belichick is upset with owner Robert Kraft over the Jimmy Garoppolo trade?

Cue the soap opera music. What is this, “The Young and the Restless?”

Don’t hold your breath for any clarity on any of these pressing issues from the sages at One Patriot Place. Belichick long ago instituted a “Don’t Tell When They Ask” mantra that emasculates the public relations staff. After all, how hard would it be for the team to spit out a two-sentence release that basically says “Tom Brady is under contract and we fully expect him to play for the Patriots this season?” Not hard at all.

But that’s not the Patriot Way. The problem is this unprecedented entanglement of egos involving the team’s two most headline-catching players is doing damage to the Patriot Way. Maybe even more damage than that other trademark of the Brady/Belichick Era – last-second Super Bowl losses.

Where is all this smoke coming from? Why now, when the window on the Brady/Belichick partnership is about to close?

It all comes back to Belichick. He runs the ship with a firm hand and after 18 years and dynastic success (five Super Bowls), it’s clear his act is wearing more than a little thin. That’s definitely the case with some players who hold the coaching staff at least partially responsible for the gut-wrenching Super Bowl loss. Whatever Butler did, or didn’t, do in the two-week run-up to frigid Minneapolis, many players wanted him on the field.

“I was out there putting my blood, sweat and tears on the field that night and one of our best players wasn’t on the field,” Danny Amendola told ESPN.com. “To tell you the truth I don’t know why. I did ask but I didn’t get any answers … . I know Malcolm’s a great player and he could have helped us win.”

Amendola wisely jumped to Miami after the Dolphins offered to increase his take-home pay to $6 million from the $1.7 million he earned in Foxborough. A Patriot needing to leave town to get paid is how Belichick rolls but, not surprisingly, they don’t like it.

That’s where Gronkowski comes in. A year ago he played on a contract that heavily relied on performance-based incentives. That was a smart move by a team clearly weary about a player who’s suffered more than his fair share of injuries.

Gronk got the last laugh by enjoying one of his best-ever seasons, missing only two games and pocketing an additional $5.5 million in incentives. That pushed his earnings for the year to a bit over $10 million. Yet this season he’s in line to take a pay cut. His deal in 2018 is structured differently with $8 million guaranteed, plus a roster bonus of $750,000 if he can play in every game.

Taking a pay cut in the prime of his career probably doesn’t please the 29-year-old. Neither should the fact that his $8 million in base salary isn’t in the NFL’s top 100. Sure it’s a contract he signed but it’s also one that should be tweaked.

Belichick has heard grumbling before from players on the way out the door and from those who stick around and honor their deals. In this case the Brady and Gronkowski camps are floating retirement options, although no one really expects either player to walk away. This smells too much like a contract squabble. Gronk wants more money, while Brady wants more years than the two that remain on his pact.

Besides money there is another explanation for much of this craziness. Is the clock ticking on Belichick’s tenure? Has the Hall of Famer told Kraft this is his last season?

That would clear up a few things. Most importantly it would explain why Josh McDaniels committed career suicide by pulling the plug on a life-changing contract in Indianapolis when a press conference was already scheduled to announce his hiring. It would make too much sense that he knows he’s the next coach, perhaps as soon as 2019.

It would also explain why Brady and Gronkowski have no qualms about skipping the opening of Belichick’s “voluntary” workouts and insisting on working with TB12 trainer Alex Guerrero and not with the team’s staff. This would also be a reason why departing players like Amendola and Nate Solder would publicly criticize a coach who you wouldn’t want to cross if you knew he’d be in the NFL the rest of your career.

So is Bill really winding things down? Now that Tom has returned from Qatar, will he show up in Foxborough next week? Will Gronk continue to play hardball?

Don’t expect any answers anytime soon. That’s the real Patriot Way.