Here's the reality: Brady is a free agent and will have a life-altering decision to make. It's a decision not entirely up to him either -- even if he wants to return to New England, the Patriots don't have to re-sign him, obviously. There are reports Brady isn't willing to give the Pats a hometown discount next year and the way things were phrased in the wake of the loss to the Titans certainly makes you think change could be in the air.
Brady also told reporters he wasn't planning on retiring, calling it "pretty unlikely" before adding that it was "hopefully unlikely" he wouldn't be done with football. The former sixth-round pick also praised the Patriots but said he wasn't interested in predicting the future when it came to whether or not he would be in New England next season.
The retirement thing is pretty much off the table. Brady essentially told Peter King of NBC Sports he had no intention of walking away from football.
"Yeah," Brady told King after the Titans game. "I think I'm just ... I'll explore those opportunities whenever they are. If it's the Patriots, great. If that doesn't work, I don't know. I just don't know. I love playing football. I still want to play football. I think I still can play at a championship level. I've just got to go do it. I'm motivated to get back to work and training."
At the same time, it's pretty hard to fathom the notion of Robert Kraft, who grew up a Patriots fan and built this dynasty with Belichick and Brady, letting the greatest quarterback of all time walk out the door. Can he really stomach the idea of seeing Brady play in a different uniform? King, whose column ran Monday morning, also spoke with Kraft from Gillette. Kraft told King it was his "hope and prayer" for Brady to either play for the Patriots or retire.
Kraft also shed some light on the contract situation: he claimed "it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year." I think that notion is surprising. When the, it than it was Brady. To have Kraft frame it that way is interesting.
Those small details matter now more than ever. Brady is a free agent for the first time in his career. He's a completely unprecedented free agent too, given his age and legacy and abilities he showed on the field. Brady wasn't at his best this year, but anyone blaming the Patriots' offensive woes on the quarterback probably wasn't looking in the right direction.
So now a very interesting dance begins. The reality for every aging quarterback is the possibility of playing in a different uniform. Will the Pats want Brady? Does Brady want the Pats? Will there be other suitors lining up? Let's explore all the options, in terms of most likely to least likely.
New England Patriots
The favorite until he actually decides to sign somewhere else. He was drafted by the Patriots, he's played his entire career with the Patriots and Kraft considers him "blood family." I have a difficult time imagining a situation where someone like Brady, with his disciplined regimen, suddenly wants to move his family to an entirely different city and start learning the ins and outs of an entirely different organization. It's not like the reason the Patriots lost to the Titans was Brady's play. Offensively they don't have the pieces right now to be an elite offensive team. (It's hilarious to think at one point there was a debate about the Patriots having the best wideouts of Brady's career, back when Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas were the top four wideouts.) Would New England need to improve the parts around Brady to convince him to return? Or would he simply be willing to return with the promise of more money? Do they even want him to return? Will Bill Belichick have the ultimate say? Can Kraft jump in and veto any moves? Is Jarrett Stidham ready to run the offense? Would the Patriots entertain acquiring a different quarterback (Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton???)? Will Josh McDaniels be around to run the offense?
There are a million moving parts to this situation. Last offseason's negotiations will make this contract more difficult. But we've seen Drew Brees continue to hit the market and then sign up for one-yearThe negotiations last offseason that led to Brady becoming a free agent ahead of 2021 definitely didn't help matters in terms of making things easier moving forward, but if Belichick convinces Bob Kraft to hold firm on his price, it's very possible the Pats won't give Brady what he needs. If that happens in negotiations, Brady could end up elsewhere. It would be wild to see but it's not completely out of the question.
The Pats are the favorite to land Brady again in 2020 for a variety of reasons. But in the event New England wants to play hardball in negotiations, Brady could find himself exploring other options. Maybe someone makes him a sizable financial offer he doesn't want to turn down, while packaging it with other aspects of what a new team can offer.
The most "logical" landing spot for Brady outside of New England is the Chargers. It makes zero sense when you say it out loud, because the Chargers are the antithesis of the Patriots. They're an underachieving team that is oftentimes poorly run and very rarely able to provide support for a franchise quarterback in order to make deep playoff runs. In particular, the last 10 years of the Chargers is incredibly disappointing. Is Tom Brady really leaving the security of New England to try and turn around the Bolts and make a run? The reasons to join up with the Chargers would be location -- Los Angeles would certainly help him expand his "brand" and he's from California -- as well as finances -- theoretically he could get max dollars on the free agent market, not that money should matter to him -- and a desire to win somewhere other than New England. I understand the connection, especially with the Chargers essentially having already moved on from Philip Rivers. People talk about the talent here, and Keenan Allen/Mike Williams would be top tier wideouts for the Patriots. Austin Ekeler is an underrated monster. But Melvin Gordon is gone, the offensive line is not-so-quietly a mess and Hunter Henry is out too. Are the Chargers more likely to win the Super Bowl next year than the Patriots? No chance. The Chargers adding Brady would go a long way towards selling tickets in their new stadium. I'm not saying the city of L.A. would latch onto Tom Brady and fill the stadium, but it's not out of the realm of possibility he would become the top local football draw.
This feels simultaneously more and less logical. The Colts are a more stable organization with a better supporting infrastructure. Jacoby Brisset is under contract, but surely he would understand the logic of bringing in Tom Brady. They're friends, so it could work. T.Y. Hilton is a top tier wideout and the Colts can lean on the ground game with their outstanding offensive line and Marlon Mack. Defensively they're not great yet, but they have improved and there are playmakers. However, there's one thing here: IT'S THE COLTS. Call me old fashioned, but I have a tough time imagining Tom Brady playing for Indy, one of his biggest rivals of the last 20 years. Brett Favre played for the Vikings so nothing's impossible, but man this would be a tough sell. I'm also just not sure the Colts have a better chance of a Super Bowl than a Brady-less Patriots. If New England bails on him, this option makes sense, though. Hell hath no fury like a quarterback spurned.
Las Vegas Raiders
This is a spicy option, and one that won't make the Carr family happy. There is plenty of buzz about the Raiders moving on from Derek Carr, especially with the outs available in his contract. Jon Gruden by some accounts doesn't think this year went well enough to warrant Carr being locked in as the guy moving forward. Perhaps the Raiders decide to keep Carr around, avoid his cap hit and draft someone this year who they can groom behind Carr. Or maybe Brady becomes a free agent and the Raiders believe bringing him in at quarterback would sell a ton of tickets and give them a three-year plan for developing the next QB. It's not hard to imagine Gruden loving the idea of Brady on the Raiders. It's also not that hard to imagine Brady in the Silver and Black. The Raiders, like the Chargers, desperately need to sell some tickets in their new venue. No one would sell more tickets than Brady.
It's hard to imagine Brady bouncing from New England for CHARLOTTE, but it's also a possibility we see Josh McDaniels hired by David Tepper. If that happens, then the Panthers may very well be an attractive landing spot for Brady. No one knows what the future holds for Cam Newton, but a trade isn't out of the question. And perhaps Brady could see the weapons of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel in McDaniels scheme as an opportunity to make a run in a division that was supposed to be deep but ended up just being meh. Throw in Wade Phillips on the defensive side while we're at it and let's cook with gas! Again, I feel like this is a longshot, but if McDaniels ends up in Charlotte, Brady will absolutely be connected with his former offensive coordinator.
Another team that would fit in terms of big market and a need for a quarterback, I think it's fairly unlikely this happens because of the Bears' cap situation and the presence of Mitchell Trubisky. Don't say that sentence out loud or anything, but Ryan Pace loves Trubisky and needs to prove he can win with the former No. 2 overall pick. If he and Matt Nagy think they can get Trubisky on track for 2020 then it's going to be tough to bring in a quarterback like Brady to take over. If for some reason Brady was interested, I think they'd be willing to push the Trubisky decision back because of the window he offered. But this only really works because we look at the Bears and consider them just a quarterback away from challenging for a championship.
Very much a long shot here, but in the event the Cowboys somehow let Dak Prescott walk -- they have to decide between Dak and Amari Cooper in terms of their franchise tag, maybe they make the wrong decision! -- they would have a void at quarterback with a lot of talent on the roster. Mike McCarthy is a veteran offensive coach who Brady would probably enjoy working with, the offensive line is stout, Ezekiel Elliott can be the focal point of the offense and Michael Gallup/Amari Cooper (still on the team in this Dak-less scenario) offer a ton of weapons. Again, this would involve bailing on Dak. But it's not out of the question completely I suppose.
This isn't happening. Brady made it clear he doesn't want to retire, I thought. I suppose if NO ONE wanted Tom F'ing Brady, he could walk away from the game. But if for some reason the Patriots fell through and none of these other teams were interested in bringing him on, then a mystery team could step up. Drew Lock looked awesome, but would you be shocked if John Elway pursued Brady in the event no one else wanted him on the roster? I would not be shocked. The Dolphins would have made this list if they weren't a) in the AFC East, b) probably not very good, c) trotting out Chan Gailey as their OC and d) probably drafting someone at QB.
So the list would expand if things got weird. But Brady will be a sought-after commodity on the open market if he doesn't sign with the Pats. It's potentially the most out of control storyline we've seen in the last four or five years depending on how it plays out.