MIAMI — I just keep thinking this is what Tom Brady will look like when he ventures out into free agency.
Maybe I’m naïve to think that.
Maybe Brady and his agent Don Yee are steaming toward unrestricted free agency with eyes wide open.
Maybe they have a grip on which opportunities will exist and a full understanding of the pros and cons.
Maybe my creeping suspicion that too few GMs, coaches and owners will have the guts to put all their chips on two years of mid-40s Tom Brady is unfounded.
But what’s become obvious in "The Great Brady Watch" is that there’s no landing spot that’s just right.
Teams that need a quarterback are too bad, too poor or reside in cities that seem too backwater.
Teams good enough to fight for a spot in Super Bowl 55 already have a man.
It’s the reality we’re all ignoring as mid-March approaches. The grass isn’t greener anywhere.
It dawned on me Wednesday how fruitless this aimless speculating is when I saw a guy named Nick Hardwick.
He was with the Chargers for 10 seasons (2004-14) and does radio in San Diego now. I grabbed him for our podcast because I figured he’d have insight on what a wonderful fit the Chargers would be for Brady. It’s the best spot for him, all of us in the media seem to agree.
“I just can’t see it happening,” Hardwick said, taking a verbal firehose to the notion. “It makes zero sense to me. The entire picture makes no sense other than the possibility he wants to get involved in the production business and be closer to that.
“Other than that, to go from the New England Patriots, an organization which owns two of their own private 737s with Patriots logos on the side and be part of a winning organization then come out to Los Angeles and be part of an organization that is not the owner but the renter in a stadium, I can’t conceptualize that.”
Hardwick went on to explain that, instead of 737s, the Chargers have one retrofitted cargo plane they use for travel. Once, when the team flew to Miami, they realized they hadn’t spent on a police escort to the hotel. The players had to get out their phones to help guide the bus driver to the destination.
The Patriots are — like the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins and a few others — a deep-pocketed franchise that spares little expense on keeping players comfortable with the aim of making them competitive. Forbes pinpointed the Patriots' operating income at $240M last September.
Teams like the Jaguars, Chargers and Raiders are all under $80M in operating income. The Raiders were at $28M.
We can spitball all day about Las Vegas real estate and pictures from UFC events that tie Brady to Vegas and all the possibilities -- but really?
The Raiders are going to bump David Carr and convince Brady that it’s in his best professional interest to wash the taste of Logan Ryan’s pick-six from his mouth by betting on the future of the Vegas Raiders?
Earlier on Thursday, Peter King was on WEEI talking about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Hey, look, everybody can say, ‘No, not that team. No, not this team,’ ” said King. “But we’re talking about Tom Brady and we’re talking about a guy who obviously once he comes to your team does so much for it, including sells tickets like no other person in this free agent market is going to.
“So, I guess I look at it and say when I think of Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, it makes as much sense to me as any of these other teams out here with the possible exception of the Chargers.”
Peter King is throwing darts. We’re all throwing darts. Fun game, darts. But it is a game.
The reality of where we are currently was spoken clearly on Wednesday by former Pats exec Scott Pioli, who said to me after question No. 3 or 4 about Brady, “Whenever Tommy chooses to leave or whatever happens or who’s the next quarterback, again, we’re speculating on things we have NO IDEA about!”
And that probably includes Brady himself. This is what he said to King the night the Patriots lost to Tennessee.
“I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are,” he said. “If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I love playing football. I still want to play football. I think I still can play at a championship level. I’ve just got to go do it. I’m motivated to get back to work and training.
“If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
We currently don’t know if it’s going to work with the Patriots. Brady’s moved the family to Manhattan, the house in Brookline is on the market, he’s sending signals of a guy ready to pull up stakes for good. Is it posturing? A negotiating ploy?
Does it make Bill Belichick’s palms sweat? Or is he merely watching this unfold with the detachment that’s served him so well, understanding the circle of NFL life closes on every player, whether he’s the best to ever do it or a guy who never got out of training camp.
It is what it is, sad though it may be.
Understand this: If Brady hits free agency, the likelihood he re-signs shrinks drastically. The Patriots aren’t going to sit there in the parking lot while Brady shops himself to other teams.
They didn’t do it in 2013 when Wes Welker wanted to see what was out there. Back then, the Patriots agreed on a deal with Danny Amendola. When Welker found limited interest in him, he came back to the Patriots and asked where things stood. His spot was already filled.
Welker’s agent, David Dunn, had to convince John Elway to make Welker a Bronco. It’s hard to forget the sad-dog face on Welker sitting in Denver for his introductory press conference.
Would the Patriots do the same with Brady? You’d be cuckoo to think otherwise. Not at quarterback.
And then there’s the salary cap implications of Brady hitting the market before returning to the Patriots. Once he goes, the team will have a $13.5M charge for the voided years of Brady’s contract accelerate and hit their cap in 2020. If they sign Brady before free agency, it would be $6.75M spread over two seasons.
Belichick holds the cards right now.
If Brady wants to stay, he’ll have to do so on Belichick’s terms. And because of the timing, Brady will have to take on faith the Patriots' promises of a better cast around him in 2020.
And if Brady is steadfast that his run of making concessions with too little bend from the other side is over, then he goes out beyond the wall, so to speak.
And nobody knows what it looks like out there.