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Perry: How Tom Brady's retirement could be Patriots' gain

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A 6-foot-4, 225-ish-pound domino fell on Wednesday and shook up the NFL's offseason before it even arrived.

No doubt, Tom Brady's retirement will have a ripple effect across the rest of the league as rosters look for help and go through the standard yearly turnover.

At the very least, one less quarterback will be available for the Raiders, Colts, Texans, Jets, Niners, Commanders, Panthers, Saints and Bucs. But there will be non-quarterback aftershocks from Brady's retirement that hit Tampa Bay as well.

They're officially no longer in win-now mode. And now that the salary cap has been set by the league at $224.8 million, the Bucs know they are a whopping $55 million over the cap.

Time to cut.

Perry: Brady's retirement leaves several teams wondering 'What if?'

Who might that be? And could Brady's former team benefit?

Running back Leonard Fournette could be moving on, which should interest the Patriots. They were in on Fournette as a free agent last offseason before he ended up re-signing in Tampa. He could pop free again because the Bucs could save between $3.5 and $6 million this offseason depending on the timing of when he's cut or traded. With Damien Harris set to hit free agency, perhaps Bill Belichick would be interested in snagging Fournette to pair him with another hard-charging runner in Rhamondre Stevenson forming the kind of one-two punch the Patriots have had the last few years.

 

Old friend Akiem Hicks could be on the move, as well. The former Patriots defensive lineman -- who spent six years with the Bears after playing in Foxboro for 2015 -- will be a free agent this offseason, and it's hard to envision the Bucs making a play for his services considering their cap situation. But at 33 years old, and coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, he may be worth a flier in New England. If he has some juice left, pairing him inside with Christian Barmore (as well as Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy), could yield some explosive results.

Then there's the biggest name of the bunch: Mike Evans.

The 6-foot-5 wideout is going into what is essentially the final year of his deal with the Bucs. (He had three void years tacked onto his most recent deal.) Anything Tampa does with him would have to qualify as a post-June 1 designation -- cut or trade -- because the dead money that hits their books before then would be exorbitant. But if they can find a trade partner and a deal that makes sense, they could create $14.5 million in cap space by sending him off after June 1.

That's a complicated deal to try to pull off because rosters are mostly set by that point on the calendar. The draft has come and gone so the return on a deal wouldn't yield immediate rookie help. But if the Bucs are desperate enough to try to find a way to free up millions in cap space, moving on from a veteran receiver when the team is clearly now rebuilding might make some sense.

From a Patriots perspective, Evans would immediately become their No. 1 threat in the passing game. He's surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in each of his nine years in the NFL, including a 1,124-yard season in 2022 that included six touchdowns in 15 games.

The Patriots need an upgrade at that all-important wideout position. They could use help in the trenches and another big body in their running back room.

There's a chance that Brady's retirement will shift Tampa's plans in such a way this offseason that reinforcements at each of those spots becomes available.