(97.1 The Ticket) It was always assumed that Bill Belichick would end his coaching career with the Patriots and then stroll into the Hall of Fame.

And that’s probably still the case.

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But an ESPN story published on Friday that describes a growing rift between Belichick, Tom Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft suggests that Belichick could walk away from the organization at the end of the season.

“[New England’s Week 17 win over the Jets] didn’t look like Belichick’s last regular-season game as the Patriots’ head coach, but several coaches and staffers later remarked to one another that it felt as if it could be,” according to the story.

That hypothetical has given birth to another: Belichick could become the next head coach of the Lions, with whom he had one of his first jobs in the NFL.

Hey, Jalen Rose is on board.

Why the Lions?

Well, they have a head coaching vacancy and the obvious connection to Belichick through general manager Bob Quinn. They also have one of the most appealing openings on the market: The quarterback is already in place and ownership is hands-off and committed to winning.

“They’re not that far away,” longtime Texans beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle told 97.1 The Ticket.

“If you look around the league at a lot of jobs, people have asked me what I think is the best, and I’ve told them, ‘The Lions are the best,'” McClain added.

Per the ESPN story, Belichick’s deepest frustration stems from Kraft meddling with the team’s roster and interfering with Belichick’s duty as general manager. Kraft reportedly forced Belichick to trade away backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season, namely to secure Tom Brady’s future in New England. This left Belichick “furious and demoralized, according to friends.”

(He had drafted Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois in the second round of the 2014 draft and viewed him as Brady’s successor.)

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Belichick has “always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions,” per the story. If the current dynamic in New England is “unsustainable,” as Belichick has apparently expressed to friends, Detroit would be a welcome change of pace.

Lions ownership has long stayed out of football decisions, and current owner Martha Ford is especially hands-off. She checks in with general manager Bob Quinn on a regular basis, but allows him full jurisdiction on matters of personnel.

(That much was clear in the team’s firing of Jim Caldwell.)

Belichick’s legacy is secured. Many consider him the greatest football coach of all time. But if he’s looking for a feather in his cap, it’d be bringing a championship — heck, even a division title — to the long-suffering Lions.

And if the rift between Kraft/Brady and Belichick is as deep as the ESPN story suggests, it’d also be a way for Belichick to prove neither of them are responsible for his success.

All that said, it’s highly unlikely Belichick leaves the Patriots after this season. Kraft is on record as saying he hopes the 65-year-old coaches into his 80s and the trio of Kraft, Belichick and Brady released a statement on Friday negating the story’s claim that their run is coming to a close:

“For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship. In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate.

“The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years. It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”

It bears mention that Belichick’s contract has never been made public. It could expire at the end of this season, it could extend through 2028. No one outside of the Patriots organization knows.

But if he’s signed beyond this season, he’ll likely only be eligible to leave via trade. And New England would want a king’s ransom in return.

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The Lions may well hire a Patriots coach to fill their vacancy on the sideline — Matt Patricia is reportedly their leading candidate — but it almost certainly won’t be Belichick.