Imagine, for a moment, a world in which Tom Brady is not playing football in New England. I know, some people simply cannot get their head around the proposition, but it is entirely possible in 2020.
Consider what the NFL might look like with someone else playing quarterback for the Patriots. Because I assure you, in a private moment or two, Brady has already done the same himself. With the GOAT about to embrace free agency for the first time in his storied, almost two-decade career, and ready to engage with other teams and at least entertain an option outside of Foxboro, it's not unrealistic to at least ponder a football landscape with him outside of the only franchise he has ever known.
The ripples caused by Brady splashing down in another city would be immense. If the man who many consider to be the best to ever do it changes addresses this offseason, the reverberations would be felt league-wide. It would impact the rest of free agency, the trade market and the draft. It would be the biggest move in what has long shaped up to be one of the wildest quarterback markets of all time (as we began documenting midseason in this space), and would dominate the winter and spring headlines well after the Lombardi Trophy was handed out.
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In the end, after flirting with other franchises and letting owners recruit and woo him, Brady just might return to the only partner he's ever had, the love of his football life, the place where he already rewrote the record books. But at this point, with the NFL league year still two months from formally opening, and with Brady making it fairly clear he won't be doing any deals with the Patriots that preclude him from dabbling in free agency, it's worth at least toying with the trickle down impact of what Brady being outside of New England could mean.
So I went ahead and did just that. I called a few execs and agents, started connecting some dots, and went ahead and took a shot at where Brady could actually land, and what that would mean for every other quarterback room in the NFL. Obviously, for much of the NFL, with a set and established starter for 2020, it means quite little, but I went ahead and predicted the starting QB for all 32 teams for next season – from those most impacted by Brady switching teams, to those not at all – and took my best early guess and how it might all unfold.
The Brady Effect – Immediate Impact (5 teams)
Los Angeles Chargers – Tom Brady. I've long heard this spot would hold unique appeal with Brady and have done significant reporting on it since. His trainers and infrastructure are already in SoCal, his family would be a very short private plane ride away, he enjoyed living in Malibu before, holds off-season workouts at USC. He'd be in Hollywood, where a second career as a producer or media mogul of some sort likely awaits and his buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck make power moves. He'd be in the perfect spot to market his TB12 brand. It would be huge for the fight to make football really matter in LA. The NFL office would be doing private cartwheels. Stan Kroenke, who is building that $4B stadium in Inglewood, would be overjoyed. If Brady does actually leave New England, this would be top of his list from everything I gather (and that list would not be very long). Could the Chargers close a move of this magnitude? Perhaps we'll find out, as either way it's looked for a while that Philip Rivers is on the way out. Heck, they could draft a Justin Herbert and have him sit behind Brady for two years. Speaking of which …
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Philip Rivers. I hear that Bruce Arians is quite intrigued by Rivers. He hears great things about him from his old pal Ken Whisenhunt, who used to coach Rivers, and the veteran would come much cheaper than what the much younger Jameis Winston would like to command. Arians prefers veterans and this would be akin to when he got Carson Palmer in Arizona. BA is year-to-year at this point and breaking in a rookie QB is less than ideal. This brings Rivers way closer to his Alabama roots and he's already moving to Florida. Yeah, he turns the ball over a ton, like Winston, but has a Hall of Fame type resume. As for Jameis …
Raiders – Jameis Winston. Jon Gruden loves to gamble. He likes Derek Carr, but isn't sure of high-end upside. He wants someone who is more willing to sling it downfield and make big plays. Winston just kinda looks like a Raiders QB, no? What a perfect fit for Vegas. Could you get him on a 2-3 year deal, kinda like a bridge situation, and also draft someone like Jordan Love? Probably. Gruden loves a challenge and coaxing the picks out of Winston certainly qualifies. This way he doesn't mortgage his first round picks to move up for Tua or Burrow, gets a young starter, and can keep drafting weapons on offense.
Washington Redskins – Derek Carr. Owner Dan Snyder loves first round pick Dwayne Haskins, but new coach Ron Rivera, who has extensive power, has already publicly hedged his bets. Rivera's first hire, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, is a champion of Carr's and they went to the playoffs together with Carr an MVP candidate. Yes, Alex Smith is still costing $19M, but Snyder could restructure Carr's deal easily to bring his 2020 cap hit down to like $7M and it's a long shot Smith ever plays again. Carr's contract is cheap enough to flip again down the road if need be.
New England Patriots – Teddy Bridgewater. Still a young pup in his mid-20s, but has gone through life-changing injuries and cleared major hurdles. Outstanding kid with a first-round pedigree and abundant upside. Protects the football. Would have a great defense behind him. You need someone with high potential to replace Brady, Bill Belichick wouldn't want a full rebuild, and they pick too low to get a sure-thing QB in the draft.
Other Teams Making Moves, Or At Least Thinking About It (11 teams)
Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow. Someone might blow them away with an offer for the first-overall pick, but they love this kid already, will fall more in love with him in the pre-draft process and ownership badly wants a young, cheap potential star QB to build around.
Chicago Bears – Andy Dalton. I figure Mitchell Trubisky is maybe handed the starting job for Week 1, with so many jobs on the line for mistakenly drafting him too high in the first place, with they need someone to push him. Dalton would make a lot of sense. New coordinator Bill Lazor working with him in Cincy, knows the offense inside out, is cheap enough on a one-year deal. Trading for him would make a ton of sense. Dalton loved playing for him, is close with Lazor, is a great example for the youngster and the Bears know they need to win more games. Reminds me of Marcus Mariota/Ryan Tannehill from a year ago.
Indianapolis Colts – Jacoby Brissett/Marcus Mariota. Indy would like to upgrade here, but Brissett is set to make $16M and I couldn't find a good trade for him in this exercise. New England drafted him but I believe will aim bigger if Brady leaves. In that case, signing Mariota to push him wouldn't be a bad idea. There may be still something to tap into, and Mariota wouldn't have to live up to the hype of being the second-overall pick with the Colts. Would give Frank Reich some Wildcat options. This could be the landing spot for Rivers as well, with Reich having long ties to him.
Miami Dolphins – Ryan Fitzpatrick/Tua Tagovailoa. Miami has been looking for a QB of the future seemingly since Dan Marino's career winded down. Tua may need to sit a little bit given the hip surgery and no need to rush anything. But Miami is loaded with picks from its roster teardown.
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees. He's over 40 now, and a free agent. But I get every indication he wants to keep playing and New Orleans far and away makes the most sense for him. Is Taysom Hill their QB of the future?
Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton. Perhaps they fall in love with a QB in the draft, with Matt Rhule's new staff there heavy on college experience. But in the end I suspect they play it out another year with the former MVP, get him healthy, and they always have the franchise tag in 2021 if they need it should Newton return to form.
Tennessee Titans – Ryan Tannehill. His acquisition a year ago was one of the sage decisions in all of football, coupled with Mike Vrabel opting to turn the team over to him before all was lost. It may require a franchise tag to keep him at this point, but that should be a no brainer, frankly. They have cap and cash to spare.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Nick Foles. Couldn't find a way for them to trade that contract for any sort of value at all. Ownership is change-resistant and seems married to the idea this team is somehow poised to be at least a quasi contender, so I suspect they are stuck with him and he battles it out with Gardner Minshew (who should have never been benched last year).
Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott. Only question is how much does he end up costing, but the free agent isn't going anywhere and a franchise tag is probably next for him as a trigger for a long-term deal.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger. On track for a full recovery from elbow surgery this offseason. No doubt he is back for 2020, though this team may need to take another crack at drafting his eventual replacement sooner rather than later.
Denver Broncos – Drew Lock (Case Keenum). Lock showed abundant promise when finally healthy enough to start in 2019, and hiring Pat Shurmur to run the offense will be a big help. Shurmur bringing Keenum back as a free agent to back him up also makes a ton of sense. Keenum had his career season with Shurmur in Minnesota and knows the system inside out. Is a great mentor and tutor who has already played in Denver before.
Nothing To See Here (16 teams)
Retired – Eli Manning. Was he elite?
TBD – Joe Flacco. Don't see him back with Broncos as a likely cap casualty. Will be interesting to see his price-point on the market, A return to Philly area as a backup to oft-injured Wentz might make sense.