As Tom Brady's free agency approaches, the language of the reporting about him is getting stronger.
NFL reporter Jeff Darlington joined ESPN's "Get Up!" on Thursday to state quite confidently that he believes Brady will sign with another team rather than return to the New England Patriots for a 21st season.
"There are people very close to Tom Brady who are being told by Tom Brady, 'It's not going to happen. I'm going somewhere else,' " Darlington said. "That's the way we're operating here.
' ... I am now at the point where I would be stunned if Tom Brady returns to the Patriots."
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According to Darlington, Brady is looking at free agency as a way to "reinvigorate himself and do something different" by joining a new team.
Which team could that be? Joining Tom E. Curran on a recent episode of NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Talk Podcast, Darlington mentioned the Tennessee Titans and Las Vegas Raiders as favorites to sign Brady.
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Brady has familiarity with Titans head coach and former Patriots teammate Mike Vrabel, while it was reported earlier this month that the Raiders are prepared to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million contract, which may exceed what New England is willing to give him.
Not all hope is lost for Patriots fans: Darlington added that even those "close" to Brady could see Patriots head coach Bill Belichick convincing the 42-year-old quarterback to stay for another year.
But Darlington also offered this warning:
"We need to wrap our minds around the fact that it is far more likely that Tom Brady will not be back with the Patriots."
UPDATE (8:50 a.m. ET): The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian and The Athletic's Vic Tafur both followed Darlington's comments with their own reports that don't bode well for Brady returning to New England.