MIAMI — Few know what Tom Brady has meant to the growth and development of the Patriots dynasty better than Charlie Weis.
The former Patriots offensive coordinator, who's now working as a Sirius XM NFL Radio host, helped guide Brady from young game-manager to one of the game's greats. Together they refined the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that's broken records.
On Radio Row on Monday afternoon, I asked Weis what he thinks will happen with Brady this offseason. Where will the 43-year-old quarterback, who's scheduled to hit free agency for the first time in his career, end up?
"Let me give two answers to that," Weis said. "I'm just going over what I hope happens and then a practical answer, too. For the New England Patriots, I hope Tommy retires as a New England Patriot for their fans, for their owner, for the organization. I want it to look like when Eli [Manning] walked away the other day.
"I want to be sitting in the front row — well, it used to be the front row, it'll probably be the eighth row now — I want to be sitting in that audience when they're having his announcement of retirement."
But Weis understands the reality of pro football. He understands the uncertainty involved when a player hits the market. He understands the possibility exists that the storybook ending may not be the ending for a quarterback who's scrawled dozens of fairy tales over the course of 20 years in New England.
"That being said," Weis continued, "Joe Montana left the 49ers, right? My only question, and it's rhetorical, but Tommy's an unrestricted free agent. If he didn't want to at least look into that, why would he be an unrestricted free agent? I'm just asking. It's a rhetorical question. We don't have to give an answer to that. That's not the answer that I hope happens, but, I mean, it's a worthy question to ask."
It is. Brady had the franchise tag option removed for 2020 when he and the Patriots re-worked his deal last summer. He invited the opportunity to have some autonomy over his future. As a result, he'll have a chance to gauge the market and see how teams value his services.
How many teams believe he's the quarterback who three seasons ago won the MVP? How many believe he's the quarterback who two seasons ago made key throws in the AFC title game and Super Bowl to win a sixth Lombardi? How many teams believe he's the middling quarterback his 2019 numbers suggest he might be?
By the time the NFL Combine rolls around next month, and as the league creeps closer toward the legal tampering period ahead of free agency — March 16 and 17 — that market will likely have crystallized. Both for Brady and the Patriots.
It seems unlikely that, given the way 2019 played out, the Patriots would be willing to go beyond what they gave Brady last year — a one-year deal worth $23 million — when Brady was looking for a longer commitment. But last year the Patriots didn't have to compete with other teams for Brady's services.
To what lengths will Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft be willing to go to ensure Brady is back? To what lengths would another ownership group be willing to go in order to win the Brady bid, improving their quarterback position and upping their profile?
If Brady is still trying to make a decision well into the tampering period and into free agency, it puts the Patriots in an awkward position. As we pointed out last week, would the Patriots go after another quarterback in order to make sure they're covered at that spot?
If they wait and wait for Brady, chances are he could choose another team. And chances are, by then, the rest of the league's quarterback dominoes could have fallen, and the Patriots would be forced to go with Jarrett Stidham, a rookie, or a less-than-desirable free agent.
It's a delicate dance. Emotions, dollars, legacies hang in the balance. But if Brady hits free agency, it's inevitable.
And if he didn't want to hit free agency, as Weis explained, then why would he be an unrestricted free agent?