Trying to get inside Bill Belichick's head always a dangerous game... but here goes!
* * * * *
Everyone is still waiting to see how Bill Belichick and the Patriots want to approach whatever comes next with Tom Brady. I believe there's a scenario in which Belichick would like to have Brady in the fold, continuing their two decades of unprecedented success. But I also believe there are very few people, not including Brady, who know exactly what that scenario is.
It's an interesting exercise for us to try to wrap our heads around. What would be the pros and cons to bringing Brady back, if we were sitting in Belichick's chair? We've batted them around for months now, but let's do our best to lay them out here.
PRO: Compete with a known commodity
While Brady is doing things that quarterbacks haven't done into their 40s, and while it might be difficult to say when Brady's physical skills will decline to the point of being non-competitive, he's certainly not there yet. More than any other option, bringing Brady back to New England would give the Patriots more of a known commodity at the sport's most important position.
If the Patriots want a skill set and a brain at quarterback that provides them the best chance to win their division -- and, if the situation is right, perhaps more -- then having Brady back makes sense. The defense is still plenty talented. The offense is a few pieces away from looking like a more successful unit.
Bringing back Brady in 2020 looks like the quickest way to maximize New England's win total.
CON: Commit to a player in uncharted territory
Brady didn't land the multi-year commitment he was hoping for last offseason. For the past few seasons, Brady's contract has been tweaked with raises or incentives added as the Patriots have apparently taken a year-to-year approach with their now 42-year-old passer.
What Brady is looking for in a new contract won't necessarily revolve around money, as our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran has reported. But Brady may want a longer-term commitment that will take him closer to his goal of playing until he's 45. That kind of term might be out there in offers from other teams.
Would the Patriots be willing to match? And in terms of dollars, would they be willing to get close to what other clubs might be offering? Would that be good business in their eyes?
PRO: Tone-setter in the organization
What Brady does in terms of influencing his teammates and encouraging them to sacrifice for the team is invaluable. He's a living legend, even in their locker room. There's a weight that comes with calling that person a teammate. No one wants to let Brady down.
There's pressure associated with that feeling, too, but the Patriots embrace the idea of being "comfortable with being uncomfortable." Brady's presence contributes to that.
Working with Brady might make players uncomfortable, young ones in particular, but in the end, there's value in that. Brady's visible disappointment with the performance of the offense last season might've rubbed some in the organization the wrong way at times, but having him in the building would benefit any team's culture.
CON: Delaying the inevitable
We've gone over some of the numbers in this space in the past, but the Patriots are scheduled to be one of the league's oldest teams again in 2020. Re-signing Brady, and surrounding him with experienced pieces that would complement him effectively, would prolong their stay near the top of the league's average-age list.
That might not matter to Belichick. He's won Super Bowls with very experienced rosters. But it's worth wondering how sustainable that course of action might be from a team-building perspective.
Moves made last season -- trading a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu, making a significant financial commitment to Antonio Brown -- in order to improve in the short term will in different ways impact New England's ability to build for the future. Would they have to continue to extend themselves in that fashion if they were to keep Brady around?
PRO: System consistency
One of the factors of Brady's free agency that we've analyzed ad nauseam this offseason is the fact that if he ends up elsewhere, he'd probably want to bring his offense with him. If he stays, one of the benefits of having him is the Patriots system would survive. Developed over 20 years, its breadth allows the Patriots to adjust their game plan for any situation, any opponent. Even the unexpected ones.
Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels both have referenced over the years the fact that when a defense throws an unforeseen attack their way, they can dig into their collective memory and pull out a plan from five, 10, 15 years ago and see if it'll work. Without Brady, that goes away.
Yes, Jarrett Stidham has experience with the language and concepts of the Patriots offense. But Brady, in some ways, is the system. There will have to be adjustments made if he's gone, even if someone with some experience in Foxboro takes over.
CON: System disconnect
There is no doubt that some have an easier time than others grasping things in the New England offense. It's not impossible to pick up. Rookie wideout Malcolm Mitchell was a key contributor by the end of his first year in 2016. Brandin Cooks had a 1,000-yard season in his first season with the Patriots the following year.
But it can take time. If the Patriots do want to get younger, while also keeping Brady in the fold to remain as competitive as possible, that's tricky. It'd require young players to keep up with Brady mentally and perform under pressure.
It's a lot to ask. It was fascinating to see Miami move on from former Patriots receivers coach Chad O'Shea as their offensive coordinator because, reportedly, they felt the Patriots system O'Shea had implemented was too challenging for the rebuilding Dolphins to master. (The Dolphins, likely adding a quarterback in the draft, hired spread offense aficionado Chan Gailey to replace O'Shea.)
Will the Patriots ever feel similarly as their roster turns over? That they're getting diminishing returns from young players because the system asks too much of them?
Over the next few weeks, there will be no shortage of discussion as to what will be Belichick's best course of action with Brady. The number of factors involved are countless.
Still, at least we know that by mid-March we'll have a little more clarity on where the coach and his quarterback stand on a reunion.