For the first time in his NFL career, Tom Brady is prepared to discuss a future with teams beyond the New England Patriots, sources said, and for the first time since he took over as a starter nearly two decades ago, the Patriots are unsure of who will be under center in 2020.

It would be extremely surprising if Brady were to agree to any new pact with the Patriots prior to the start of free agency in March, I'm told, and while his process could still result in a return to New England it is far from certain at this point. Brady intends to take a methodical approach to his first foray into free agency, as, at age 42, this will be the final contract of his playing career.

Brady and his team will weigh all options available to determine which opportunity provides the best chance to continue competing for the Lombardi Trophy and to see what other organizations think of him at this late stage in his career. As one source put it, Brady will do his due diligence to assess all realistic possibilities, with it only "human nature" to explore this chance to embrace his free-agent status for the first time in his career.

Brady has long been contemplating his football mortality and continues to tell friends and confidants that he anticipates playing until at least age 45. His love for the game has not diminished. But there is some uncertainty about the Patriots organization -- how much longer Robert Kraft will oversee the day-to-day operations, and how much longer Bill Belichick will coach, for instance -- and also a need to upgrade the cast around Brady on the offensive side of the ball, where a lack of speed and young talent was a weekly hindrance in 2019.

Brady also is eager to take on the role of mentor to a young quarterback, no matter where he plays, hoping to leave any organization in good shape when he retires. Part of his legacy, he believes, could be tied to seeing future generations embrace the TB12 training and lifestyle regimen that Brady strongly believes has helped him play so long at such a high level.

It's possible he ends up bringing part of The Patriot Way to another organization. Or he might decide that remaining a Patriot for his entire career is the way to go. Regardless, no decisions have even come close to being made and none is expected until the middle of March, when the market officially opens.