Regarding Tom Brady’s football future, one simple question we all keep coming back to is this: “If not here, then where?”
So far, nobody’s provided a really good answer. Teams with a chance to challenge for championships — as Brady is accustomed — already got a man.
Why would Brady want to go someplace in the middle of a renovation to live out his final NFL days on a 9-7 team trying to find itself?
There doesn’t appear to be a plug-and-play solution, even for a legend.
But maybe we’ve been looking at it the wrong way (myself included). Maybe we’re looking at what other teams currently have in place when trying to envision Brady there rather than envisioning him there and then imagining what could surround him.
Even approaching 43, Brady remains a bigger draw for a free agent wideout than almost any other quarterback in the league.
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But if he does hit unrestricted free agency, those around Brady believe the market will be hot. Just as important, it’s believed other free agents will clamor for the chance to go where he lands.
Because of his reputation, résumé and work ethic, Brady is unique as an NFL free agent. In the right situation, he can affect a culture change greater than the one Peyton Manning brought to the Broncos in 2013.
And that’s why, when we look at NFL “have-nots” that missed the playoffs, the presence of Brady and whoever wants to ride with him can quickly turn them into “haves.”
To financially accommodate Brady and others, obviously, a team needs cap space. The Dolphins ($89.4M), Colts ($86.1M) and Buccaneers ($79.9M) are first, second and fourth in available cap space according to the website Over The Cap. The Bills are third ($80.1M) but they have signaled they will ride or die with Josh Allen.
Because of NFL tampering rules, no team is going to step up and express any interest in Brady before he’s a free agent. Actually, they may do the opposite. My dad used to call that playing “Mickey the Dunce.”
I think Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was playing Mickey the Dunce last week when he gave this reply after being asked about Brady.
“We’re a team that is now rebuilding and I don’t know why he’d really want to come to the Dolphins. He’s been one of the fiercest competitors there is and we’re at the stage with the Dolphins trying to really build a team for the future.”
That response was almost identical — I mean, to the syllable — to the one I was given by a Dolphins official prior to the final game of the regular season between Miami and the Patriots.
No team wants to get embroiled in a tampering investigation, so at least the Dolphins are smart enough to get on the same page. Expect other teams to take a similar approach and “get it out there” that they couldn’t envision Brady ever coming to them.
But I learned late in the week in Miami that interest is already percolating with a number of franchises.
Who would Brady want to bring with him? An obvious possibility would be Antonio Brown.
Even as Brown’s behavior has devolved from quirky to troubling to bizarre, Brady’s remained supportive on social media and stayed in touch with him.
It’s not a stretch to assume Brady wonders if Brown would be as bad off now if the Patriots had just stuck by him. Brown, meanwhile, has kept up his devotion to Brady since his release, reiterating it as recently as five days ago on Instagram. There are hurdles for Brown to clear, obviously. Namely, he needs to be reinstated by the NFL and he’s done little to show he’s on the road to accomplishing that.
But if Brady were to go to a team like Tampa Bay which already has Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman and O.J. Howard there, it’s not like they’d need a lot to bolster the people for Brady to throw to. And even if Brown weren’t reinstated, hauling Danny Amendola — also a free agent — would help the comfort level as well.
Brady’s potential impact wouldn’t just affect guys he’d throw to. Any player — offensive or defensive — would likely relish the chance to get on board any bus Brady was helping drive.
If, as I’ve been told, it’s not about the money for Brady as much as it is a level of commitment and the pieces around him to make playing quarterback enjoyable, then Brady’s financial demands in a new place might not be extreme.
Whether it’s $30M, $25M or even less than that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the chance to go into the year optimistic about what it’s going to look like when the games begin.
The past two years in New England it’s looked rough at the start. In 2019, it stayed that way.
How can the Patriots convince Brady that, this year, it won’t look that way in September? Does Bill Belichick even want to try to convince him? From his perspective, players play, they don’t make the personnel decisions.
If that’s the stance, there will likely be teams out there willing to let Brady have a say. And his voice will carry weight around the league.