MIAMI – “He’s gone, isn’t he?”
I can’t tell you how many conversations about Tom Brady this past week in Miami ended with the person I was talking with making that tentative declaration.
That may have felt like the case because of all our speculation about “best fits” and “motivated owners.”
But by late Friday night, indications I’d gotten were that there will be real effort to keep Brady in New England. And Brady will give them their shot.
My understanding is the Patriots will “extend themselves” financially to get Brady back in the fold. Whether that means they’ll go “in excess of $30M” as Ian Rapoport from NFL Media reported Sunday morning is unknown. Presumably, that’s in excess of a $30M salary in 2020 which would be up from his $23M in 2019.
That would be a leap, especially since there would likely be $6.75M in dead money from Brady’s voided deal added on to the $30M, bringing his cap number to $36.75M in that scenario.
Regardless, Brady hasn’t drawn a line through the Patriots on his list of possible destinations. Not at all.
It was reiterated to me, however, that this isn’t about the money for Brady. It’s about appreciation for what he’s done and can still do.
That appreciation can be shown as much by getting experienced, high-level talent around him as it can with a dollar amount. But the timing for that will be tough for the Patriots.
The past two seasons, the Patriots did little in the offseason to staff the offense around Brady. There were a variety of reasons for that but the final result was an offense that was frustratingly and increasingly punchless.
Meanwhile, Brady was underpaid relative to his peers. If he re-signs before free agency opens, he’ll again be taking on faith that the Patriots will get a surrounding cast that allows the offense to perform at a high level. The departure this week of legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia didn’t start things off on the right foot.
Free agency begins March 18. On March 16, the Patriots can start negotiating with prospective free agents. They’ll have two days to make headway on bringing in reinforcements.
It was indicated to me that this is for Bill Belichick and Brady to work out for themselves. When the Patriots agreed last August to not use the franchise tag on Brady in 2020, that was to ensure that any decision Brady made to stay was of his own volition. Why keep him against his will? He’s earned the right to decide to stay or leave if that’s what he wants.
It was reiterated that this decision – like the call to trade Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 – is one that will ultimately be Belichick’s. There’s a presumption that owner Robert Kraft will swoop down from the rafters and overrule Belichick if the head coach decides it’s time to move on from Brady. That belief is fed by the lie that won’t die, the urban legend that Kraft forced the Garoppolo trade.
That didn’t happen and nothing’s really been done to correct the record.
The owner has declared many times he wants Brady to remain a Patriot. But my understanding is that, just as he wouldn’t force Brady to stay under a franchise tag, he won’t intercede if Belichick concludes moving on from Brady is the best course of action.
While Brady is more than open to remaining a Patriot if things seem destined to improve, the lure of being a free agent is there as well. There are about 10 teams – including the Patriots – that could be attractive landing spots or possible suitors.
Even though I spitballed the other day that the market may be bleak, I’ve gotten more indications that it’s going to be really robust.
If there’s a team with a lot of cap space, a decent crop of foundational players and room for a legend at quarterback, Brady could go there and then that team may become a destination for other free agents. That’s one scenario, at least.
But the other – Brady and the Patriots finding a way to get him to Season 21 as a Patriot – is not dead yet.