Tom Brady free agency: When the GOAT feels like a lame duck

Tom Brady free agency: When the GOAT feels like a lame duck

It will be one thing if, after thorough and earnest negotiations, Tom Brady decides to wander off into free agency.

It will be quite another if Bill Belichick appears to hand Brady his hat and open the door to let him leave.

In 17 days, teams can begin legally making their pitches to Brady’s agent, Don Yee. In 19 days, Brady will become a free agent. So far? No talks.

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Earlier this week, a report emerged that the Patriots were “expected” to meet with Yee at the NFL Combine this week. I contacted a source to confirm. The source asked if I knew who was “expecting” this meeting. The inference? No meeting was on the docket. I was told to be skeptical of the report. Be skeptical of everything, actually.

Meeting, no meeting, in a vacuum, it’s not a big deal. It’s still early-ish. There’s no need for widespread panic.

But perception – like it or not – does matter. And not just to fans and media.

If Belichick wants to slow play negotiations because that’s how the Patriots do it, that gives Brady more evidence that it’s no skin off Belichick’s nose whether Brady stays or goes.

And before you say, “Well, Brady’s just being tender," understand the backdrop.

Protracted negotiations last summer didn’t yield the extension Brady wanted. There was no extension in the summer of 2018; just a handful of bonuses Brady had little shot at achieving. Nothing at all happened in the summer of 2017 after the Super Bowl win over the Falcons despite Brady reportedly making it clear he wanted a new deal.

As I’ve reported, this isn’t about money for Brady. It’s about removing the feeling that he’s only here because a better option hasn’t yet emerged. Everybody else agrees he’s the GOAT. Meanwhile, he feels like a lame duck.

Inevitably, that's led to Brady envisioning himself listening to offers from teams that don’t look at him as a handsome roll of human duct tape.

Everybody else agrees he’s the GOAT. Meanwhile, he feels like a lame duck.

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington – who is sharp on the Brady beat – said Thursday that Brady is “looking forward to” free agency.  He added he’d be “stunned” if Brady stayed.

Personally, I wouldn’t be stunned if he stayed. I believe Brady’s preference is staying in New England under the right circumstances. But I also sense there’s excitement about hearing offers and having options.

That excitement will grow the more Brady perceives ambivalence on the Patriots' part.

This is where it has to get uncomfortable for Robert Kraft. The owner has made it very clear he wants Brady to finish his career with his team.

But he also wants to be minimally involved with these negotiations because he doesn’t want either of his employees feeling they’re being forced into something.

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Kraft agreed to Brady’s request to have the potential 2020 franchise tag removed from the Patriots' arsenal because Kraft didn’t want Brady feeling trapped against his wishes. Kraft felt that, after a couple of decades of unprecedented success, Brady deserved to have that wish granted.

Meanwhile, Kraft has been (contrary to perception) hands-off when it comes to Brady. Belichick knows what’s best for the football team. It’s demonstrated. If Belichick wants to go year-to-year with Brady – even if Brady is pissed about that – that’s what they are going to do.

Kraft didn’t intercede when it came time to trade Jimmy Garoppolo – the owner stridently denies that – but the belief he did has led to an unrealistic expectation he’ll swoop in to make sure Brady stays.

He won’t. If the two sides are close, he’ll do everything he can to get a deal done. But he’s not interceding.

So that leaves it to Belichick. And a half-hearted attempt to convince Brady to stay is not going to cut it.

As much as Belichick probably recoils at the thought of a dog-and-pony show to satisfy “optics” and avoid the cringe-inducing charge that foot-dragging is “a bad look,” the news void is being filled with speculation that the Patriots don’t give a crap one way or another.

Who cares about optics and perception? How many times has Belichick been on the receiving end of a national finger wag about something he said, didn’t say or did that was unanimously dubbed a “BAD LOOK!”?

How many times has he walked out of that fire like a hooded Dany Targaryen? Pretty much every time.

Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin describes introductory FaceTimes with Tom Brady

Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin describes introductory FaceTimes with Tom Brady

Tom Brady is already making a point to get to know his new teammates in Tampa Bay.

The former New England Patriots quarterback had one request after signing with the Buccaneers last week, and that was all of his teammates' phone numbers. One particular player he's already reached out to is one of his new favorite targets, Chris Godwin.

In a recent interview with Ros Gold-Onwude of The Boardroom, Godwin detailed the dynamic of his first FaceTime conversations with Brady.

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“Really it’s literally just getting to know each other,” Godwin told Gold-Onwude. “Just early introductory things. Just trying to get a feel for who we are as people more than anything else. Like we didn’t talk ball or anything, really just about how excited we both are to play with each other.”

“For me, I’m just going to learn," he added. “You know, learn as much as I can from somebody who’s arguably the G.O.A.T., and I’m just ready to roll.”

The learning curve probably won't be all that steep for Godwin, who broke out in a big way last season for the Bucs. The 24-year-old was one of the top wide receivers in all of football, tallying 121 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns.

Godwin went on to describe his initial reaction to Brady -- who's been in the league since Godwin was four years old -- becoming his new QB.

“At first it was a little weird, cause it’s like I feel like it’s someone I’ve watched my entire life, Godwin said. "Like you said, he’s my colleague now so past the initial interaction it’s like alright, cool. This is starting to feel a little more normal now.”

You can watch the full interview below:

Godwin happens to wear No. 12 for the Bucs, but recently said he'll give it up to TB12 if the six-time Super Bowl champion asks for it.

Patriots WR N'Keal Harry already seems to be embracing the underdog role

Patriots WR N'Keal Harry already seems to be embracing the underdog role

Over the course of the New England Patriots' dynasty, NFL fans learned a valuable lesson: never count the Patriots out.

But with Tom Brady leaving after 20 years to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that has quickly changed. Suddenly, the Pats are perceived as underdogs.

It isn't difficult to see why. The quarterback position now is a real area of concern, and several key contributors from 2019 have departed in free agency.

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Pats wide receiver N'Keal Harry, however, doesn't seem worried. The 2019 first-round pick took to Twitter on Saturday with a message for the doubters.

The 22-year-old certainly isn't lacking in confidence.

If the Patriots are to exceed expectations without Brady, Harry will be counted on to be a focal point in the offense. New England's wide receiver depth chart currently consists of Harry, Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, and Jakobi Meyers. There's also a strong chance the position is addressed again via the draft, which takes place next month.

The real question is who will be throwing the ball to Harry when the 2020 NFL season kicks off. Right now, 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham is the odds-on favorite to be Brady's successor.

Harry tallied 12 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven games during his rookie campaign.