Historically, the New England Patriots have had no problem letting a player go when they get to a certain age or their skill set may be diminishing.
You've seen it with guys like Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel, Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinest.
This is a different circumstance with Tom Brady, however.
If you watch that Titans game, it’s not like Brady lost any velocity on his ball or was struggling to make throws.
You saw what Peyton Manning’s injury did to him late in his career. He was a different player out there. I think Brady is still playing at a really high level.
There are a number of reasons why his statistics were down this year: the offensive line, the lack of a running game, the different receivers coming in and out and the youth at that position, to name a few.
I think he can still play at a high level and be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I also think the Patriots have to evaluate their personnel and surround him with players who will help him.
I think he needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver. I think they have to go out and invest in some tight ends. They also have to get healthy: Losing James Develin early on changed a lot for that offensive unit.
If the Patriots want to bring any quarterback into that situation, let alone Brady, they’re going to have to evaluate all personnel on offense.
Brady is your best option to continue to win championships. There’s no doubt in my mind.
The ball is in Brady’s court. He gets to negotiate from a position of power as a free agent. If he wants to stay with the Patriots and the Patriots want him back, then he gets to make the call on whether or not to come back.
I’m sure Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and everybody in the Patriots' organization understand Tom's importance throughout his career.
But I think they also recognize that if you look at the list of free-agent quarterbacks and the guys available in the upcoming NFL Draft, Brady is your best option to continue to win championships. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Throughout his career, Tom has always given the Patriots a hometown discount to provide them with extra cap space to get players who can help the team.
Negotiations are always difficult, though, especially with a guy who’s been with your franchise for 20 years. You want to do right by him, but you want to do right by the organization.
I think a big part of these negotiations will be Tom's relationship with Mr. Kraft.
Mr. Kraft has always done right by Tom, and when things needed to get done at certain points in some other negotiations, he’s always been a guy that’s stepped up, and their relationship has helped seal the deal.
Also, if you look at the landscape of the NFL, I don't think there are many teams that are intriguing for a guy like Tom where you can walk in and win right away.
I use the example of when Peyton Manning went to Denver.
They had all the pieces of the puzzle except for the quarterback. So, when he came in, they could just go.
But if you look around and ask, “What team offers that to a quarterback at Brady's age?” There aren't many.
You also have to consider who’s going to be calling plays. Brady has been in the same system for 20 years. You may think you want a fresh start with another team, but then it’s a completely different offensive structure than what you’re used to.
How much give and take are they going to have with the quarterback that comes in? Are they going to allow you to change the entire offense and manipulate it to how you want it?
It might be enticing for Tom to go to the Cleveland Browns if Josh McDaniels becomes head coach.
He would know the system, he’d be familiar with the head coach and they have a lot of good players there with Nick Chubb and a talented wide receiver group.
But when you bring Brady into that organization, are you giving up on Baker Mayfield? When you say, “We’re done with you,” to a guy like Mayfield, that fractures the relationship going down the road when Brady actually does retire.
It creates a bad relationship and bad blood with that guy if you’re ever looking at him to be your starter down the road.
For me, this is the one big X-factor with Brady: If McDaniels goes to Cleveland, who is going to be promoted to Patriots offensive coordinator?
Whether it was Bill O'Brien or Josh McDaniels, there's always been a guy in waiting who could step right up.
With Joe Judge leaving, I don’t know who has been in this system long enough to be comfortable calling plays and make that transition.
If it’s not somebody within the building, then the Patriots would have to quickly bring in another coordinator familiar with that system, because I can’t imagine after 20 years that they would suddenly, abruptly change the system.
That said: I think Tom Brady will be coming back to the Patriots in 2020, and they'll be firing on all cylinders.
This organization is going to do a full player evaluation. No matter what, I think they have to. You can't go into the year with the same group.
So, they'll identify where they need to get better, and from there, they'll go out in free agency and in the draft and do exactly what they need to do.