Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

The New England Patriots will be worse off in 2020 if Tom Brady leaves in free agency. That much is obvious.

But the ripple effects of Brady's departure may be felt for years to come.

The 42-year-old quarterback is one of several key Patriots players who will become free agents on March 18, including safety Devin McCourty and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

If Brady returns for a 21st season, it's possible at least one member of that defensive trio sticks around for another Super Bowl run.

If Brady signs elsewhere? Former Patriots defensive standout Rob Ninkovich believes the dominos could fall quickly in New England.

"If Tom doesn’t come back, I don’t know if those guys are going to want to stick around," Ninkovich told the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian on Wednesday. "Because what’s the outlook for the team? Is it a rebuilding phase? What happens moving forward?"

Ninkovich also noted head coach Bill Belichick may have a harder time executing the team-building model he's had so much success with over the years, as free agents would be less likely to take a pay cut to come to New England.

“That would be a hard sell. In years past, the Patriots have been able to get guys at a bargain, because it’s an older veteran, a guy who’s looking for a Super Bowl, for a playoff run," Ninkovich explained.

“They’re approached by the Patriots, who say, ‘Look, we’re not going to guarantee the biggest contract, but we’re going to give you an opportunity to play in the playoffs and Super Bowl if you’re interested. Ninety-nine percent of the guys are ‘yeah, I want some validation for my football career.' "

But would free agents be confident that Brady's replacement -- 23-year-old Jarrett Stidham, perhaps -- could keep the Patriots in Super Bowl contention? Ninkovich isn't so sure.

"It won’t be easy without Tom. It’ll definitely be a struggle," he said.

As our Patriots Insider Phil Perry recently pointed out, time is also working against Belichick as he (and the Patriots' other pending free agents) awaits Brady's free-agent decision.

On that front, Ninkovich believes there's a real chance the six-time Super Bowl champion signs elsewhere in March.

"My gut is telling me Tom is motivated to prove a lot of people wrong," Ninkovich added. " ... So it wouldn’t surprise me if he puts up the deuces to everybody, and tries to motivate himself to prove people wrong."

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

Former Patriots QB Tom Brady admits 'I've definitely had concussions'

Former Patriots QB Tom Brady admits 'I've definitely had concussions'

It's impossible to avoid the physical toll playing football has on someone's body, regardless of which position you might play. Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hasn't missed many games in his 20 NFL seasons, but that doesn't mean he's escaped injuries.

The six-time Super Bowl champion, during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with SiriusXM's Howard Stern, admitted he's "definitely had concussions" during his career.

Brady also explained he's not going to let other people tell him when to stop playing football, despite the impact the game has had on his body. 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

“I could sit here and (say) stop playing football, so I could worry about what’s going to happen or worry about this or that instead of saying why don’t I live my life the way that I want to and enjoy it? For me, it’s doing what I love to do," Brady said.

"You don’t tell a musician to stop singing at age 42. You don’t tell a great painter, stop painting at 42. If you want to stop, stop, go ahead. But for me, because I feel like I can still play doesn’t mean I should just stop playing because that’s what everyone tells me I should do.”

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Brady suffered an ACL tear in Week 1 of the 2008 season and didn't play again until the following campaign. Those remaining 15 games in 2008 are the only matchups he's missed due to injury as a NFL player. The only other time Brady missed time was his four-game suspension to begin 2016 that stemmed from Deflategae. 

He has said in the past he wants to play until age 45. Brady will be 43 when he steps on to the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2020 season. He signed a two-year contract with the Bucs in free agency last month.

Brady didn't have an elite season in 2019, but his stats (4,057 yards, 24 TD, eight INT) were still pretty good. His skills will deteriorate at some point -- and you could argue that process already has begun -- but there hasn't been much evidence lately to suggest he won't be able to play until he's 45 if that's his goal.

Tom Brady corrects Robert Kraft over classic first Patriots meeting story

Tom Brady corrects Robert Kraft over classic first Patriots meeting story

The story of Tom Brady's initial meeting with Robert Kraft has become a part of New England Patriots folklore.

If you ask Brady, it's also inaccurate.

According to Kraft, the story goes like this: Shortly after the Patriots took Brady 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, the quarterback met the owner at the old Foxboro Stadium and cockily told Kraft, "Hi, I'm Tom Brady. And I’m the best decision this organization has ever made."

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Kraft has recounted that anecdote several times as an example of Brady's incredible confidence and drive. During an interview Wednesday with SiriusXM's Howard Stern, though, Brady corrected Kraft's retelling.

"I didn’t say that, for the record," Brady told Stern. "He doesn't remember as well as I do. I remember saying, 'You’ll never regret picking me.' "

While the message is the same, that's certainly a less bold statement than what Kraft recalls.

"What I meant was, look, you took a chance on me, and like everyone, I’m going to try to make you proud," Brady added. " ... I've really tried to keep that approach for 20 years."

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Brady admitted later in the interview he knew his Patriots tenure had run its course before the start of last season.

But he already had won six Super Bowls with head coach Bill Belichick at that point, and the 42-year-old pointed to QB and head coach joining the Patriots in the same year (2000) as a big factor in their mutual success.

“It was such a confluence of factors. I was ready to prove myself,” Brady said. “I was really ready and eager to prove myself because of my college experience, I learned a lot about competition and teamwork and the things to me that really mattered.

“I was ready to go all-in at the professional level, and that was when Coach Belichick, that was his first year too, and we both came in with a lot to prove. I came in with an attitude I could bring a lot to the team, and I was all about the team, because that was what I had learned in college."