The NFL wouldn't be the same if Tom Brady isn't wearing a New England Patriots uniform, even though that is appearing to be more of a possibility as free agency approaches. Per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, the Patriots still have not reached out to Brady about a potential new contract, with a source telling Guregian "it's not looking good" for a Brady return to New England.
ESPN's Jeff Darlington, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that he would be "stunned if Brady went back to New England." Darlington also said Brady is looking forward to free agency, which is uncharted territory for the Patriots quarterback, then offered even more ominous words for Pats fans hoping No. 12 will return in a report alongside ESPN's Mike Reiss:
Tom Brady is currently operating under the belief that he will enter free agency to play somewhere other than New England next season, a sentiment the quarterback has shared with others ... While Brady has his eyes very clearly on free agency, there is still a belief in his circles that the Patriots will have their opportunity to convince Brady to stay. But at this point, Brady is evaluating the NFL landscape with the intention of departing, sources said.
Brady was reportedly set to meet with the Patriots at the combine, but that has not come to fruition yet. If the Patriots move forward without Brady, they'll have to test the trade market (Andy Dalton?) or dive into the talent-rich free agency pool of quarterbacks for his successor (Ryan Tannehill or Philip Rivers could be potential candidates since both are impending free agents).
Jarrett Stidham is currently the Patriots' No. 2 quarterback. The Patriots could potentially ride with Stidham for a year and develop a starting quarterback from this year's draft.
Brady, on the other hand, will have plenty of suitors for his services in 2020. The Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Brady, while the New York Giants have also emerged as a speculated suitor.
Where Brady decides to play in 2020 will be the storyline of the NFL offseason, especially since he spent the first 20 seasons of his career playing for the Patriots. Brady, who will be 43 in August, threw for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season, but his passer rating (88.0) was in the 80s for the first time since 2013 and his yards per game (253.6) was his lowest since 2010 (243.8).
Brady may just want to show he can be successful outside of New England, ready to start the next (and potentially) final chapter of his NFL career. The Patriots may also be ready to turn the page on the greatest era in franchise history, starting with the exodus of Brady.
Whatever Brady decides to do over the next few weeks, the entire NFL will be watching.