Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry are back for a special offseason edition of "Point/Counterpoint," where they go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Today's topic, unsurprisingly, involves Tom Brady:
If the Patriots want to keep Tom Brady in New England -- and we can debate whether or not that's what they should want, given what it might cost in terms of money and player additions -- their best bet is to keep him from getting to free agency altogether. If he officially hits the market, the floodgates will be open, the bidding war will be well underway, and the Patriots will have an additional $6.75 million dead-money cap charge hitting their books.
Convincing Brady to eschew the official start of free-agency will be no easy task. He wants to see what's out there for him. But the Patriots might be able to do it if they blow him out of the water by surrounding him with talent before the league year begins on Mar. 18.
How? Trades. The Patriots and other clubs can come to agreements on trades well before the start of the new league year and then sign off on those deals as soon as the new league year kicks off. Signing players via free agency, and promising Brady they'll be able to lock those players down, would be a tougher road.
For instance, telling Brady that they'll make a competitive offer to free-agent tight end Hunter Henry might not be enough for the Patriots to convince the 43-year-old to stay. There's simply no guarantee Henry will want to sign, especially if Brady's future is up in the air.
To overwhelm Brady with trades seems more feasible. The Patriots could potentially trade their top draft choice, No. 23 overall, for either Odell Beckham or Stefon Diggs. Both have four years remaining on their respective contracts. Both will count between $14 and $15 million on the cap in 2020. Both offer Brady a true No. 1, game-breaking target. Both have been disgruntled, and both are on teams with new offensive staffs. Seems plausible.
But why stop there?
If the wideout position is a little crowded, and if the Patriots would like to clear some cap space to add Beckham or Diggs, they could potentially trade Mohamed Sanu and a third-round pick to Tampa Bay for tight end OJ Howard. Sanu would complement Bucs receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin underneath. Howard, meanwhile, has been a relative afterthought in Bruce Arians' downfield passing game. For him, going to New England would represent a fresh start as he goes into the final year of his rookie contract. The Patriots would pick up about $3 million in cap space with the move. The Bucs have oodles of space already and probably wouldn't mind taking on a little more dough to add a third-round pick. They also have another capable tight end on the roster in Cameron Brate.
Perhaps the Patriots could promise Brady they'll use another one of their third-round picks (they're projected to have three this year) to add a tight end in the draft. LSU's Thad Moss (Randy's son) might pique Brady's interest. Then they could tell Brady they're willing to make an offer to acquire his pal Danny Amendola, who's a free agent.
Suddenly Brady would be looking at a receiver group that includes Beckham (or Diggs), Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Danny Amendola. His tight ends would be Howard and Moss. The cost would be steep, but it might be enough to convince Brady to finish out his career in New England. Even if there are other clubs out there willing to pay him more.
The fever dream scenarios in which Bill Belichick pitches plans to Make Tom Stay are flowing now.
These are the final days of Brady Limbo: the period between the disappointing end to a confusing 2019 season and the witching hour when the Patriots and Brady make their decision to run it back one more time or shut it down.
In a little more than three weeks we’ll know if the radical course change we talked about in December actually happens or not.
Until then, idle time is being filled with spitballing about what the Patriots might do to veer away from the scenario that – when looked at objectively – they’ve already chosen.
The notion that Belichick, in his 46th season as an NFL coach, is going to get sentimental or nostalgic enough to go “all-in” for 2020 to appease a 43-year-old quarterback is a little cuckoo.
Belichick began laying the Brady succession plan six years ago in 2014. Brady – to his credit and to the benefit of Belichick’s “greatest coach ever” legacy – blew that succession plan to bits. Good for Brady. Good for Belichick realizing that – as much as he loved Jimmy Garoppolo – Brady still had more good miles in him no matter what the odometer said.
But rather than a full-on offensive overhaul, it’s a lot more realistic to imagine the Patriots making tweaks for 2020: tweaks that will happen whether Brady is a Patriot or not.
They've been busy spending on offense. They’ve spent three first-round picks on Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry and a 2020 second-rounder on Mohamed Sanu.
Wynn will be a Pro Bowl-level player if he can catch a break health-wise. Michel showed as a rookie what he can do given a sufficient array of blocking talent in front of him. Harry barely took his first steps as an NFL player and – looking objectively at what he showed over the eight games (including playoffs) – there were plenty of plays to like.
Sanu’s ankle was a mess, and he and Brady couldn’t get things ironed out. Meanwhile, Julian Edelman was beaten down to sawdust, could barely raise one arm, couldn’t cut and still wound up with 100 catches. He’s got more gas in his tank too.
Any idiot can tell the Patriots blew it at tight end by ignoring the spot in Gronk’s final seasons. That was their No. 1 offensive issue in 2019 because their reliance on the position in both the running and passing game meant the dropoff was from elite to non-existent. Losing James Develin and David Andrews were kicks to the ribs after the Patriots were already down. Maybe both are back at the level they were. Maybe not. It’s a point of concern as is the possible departure of left guard Joe Thuney.
The Patriots have to address those spots or change their scheme to fit the players they do have a helluva lot better than they did last year. And, again, that’s going to happen, Brady or not.
Believing that Belichick is going to have an epiphany in which he says, “We’ve been doing it all wrong! Let’s go bananas and load up for this year!” is just not realistic.
More realistic? Belichick saying to Brady, “Look, we have the people in house. We have the coaching. We had bad luck with health and personnel plans fell through. As you know. I don’t have some big list of players I’m going to buy. I’m not Santa Claus and I don’t want you on my lap telling me which receiver you want. All I want to know is, are you in or are you out?"