Why the Patriots can't wait on Tom Brady's free agent tour

Why the Patriots can't wait on Tom Brady's free agent tour

The Patriots can't handle Tom Brady the way they've handled other high-profile free agents.

The obvious answer why is because Brady is not just another high-profile free-agent-to-be. But it goes deeper than that, deeper than any emotional connection the franchise and fan base have to sport's most accomplished athlete.

The reality is that because of the importance of the position Brady plays, and because of the impact his presence (or absence) will have on Bill Belichick's roster-building approach, the Patriots need to have a plan in place for what they're doing at quarterback well before free agency begins on March 18.


If Brady wants to sign a deal with the Patriots before free agency begins, that's one thing. It'd be a two-way street. It'd be a deal that would satisfy both Brady and the team that was unwilling to give Brady what he hoped for last summer.

But if Brady wants to see what's out there for him in free agency — a desire that was made apparent when he had the 2020 franchise tag option removed from his one-year agreement with the team — then that's where things get complicated.

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Brady could hit free agency for the first time in his career. He could make whatever visits he wants to organizations outside New England. He could later come back to the Patriots, it's been hypothesized, tell them what he's been offered, and negotiate based on that new information. That's what the Patriots have done in retaining cornerstone pieces in the past like Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater.

But Brady is different.

Whether or not the 42-year-old quarterback is back would impact roster-building in a way no other player could.

Will the Patriots want to go on a spending spree in free agency, or sit back and save? Will they want to trade draft picks for veterans, or hang tight and roll the dice with as many selections as possible in late April? The answers to those questions could hinge on whether or not Brady returns.

Waiting for Brady to field offers during the legal tampering period (March 16-17), come back, and then negotiate would open up the Patriots to botching portions of the roster around Brady.

Do they make an offer on a veteran wideout or tight end before they know for sure they have Brady? Do they scramble to get offers in on those types only once Brady's signed? And what are the odds they get what they want if that's their strategy?

For a coach and owner who've built the league's longest-running dynasty with sound business decision after sound business decision, that sounds like more uncertainty than they'd be willing to deal with.

There may be players available dying to play with Brady and under Belichick. But when there is free-agent money at stake, players generally aren't willing to wait around for teams to make up their minds while bags of cash in the form of massive signing bonuses are being lobbed at the feet of their peers.


That's why there's a chance Brady's free-agent tour could end up resembling Wes Welker's more than Hightower's or McCourty's.

Before the start of the 2013 season, Welker fielded offers around the league. He had an opportunity to see what his market was for the first time since being traded to New England in 2007. He was one of the league's most productive receivers. That was his right.

But the Patriots had to prepare. They didn't want to go into the next season without a sure thing at one of the most important positions in their offense. They signed Danny Amendola as soon as free agency began, unwilling to wait around on Welker — potentially missing out on other free-agent slot receiver options in the process — only for him to choose someone else.

If certainty at receiver held that kind of value to the Patriots seven years ago, wouldn't the same logic apply to a vastly more important position?

Would the Patriots be willing to wait on a Brady decision as other free-agent quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers went off the board to other clubs?

ESPN's Adam Schefter recently referred back to what happened with Rob Gronkowski last offseason and said the Patriots wouldn't want to be caught in the same position at quarterback that they found themselves in at tight end in 2019.

"Here’s the situation: I don’t believe the New England Patriots are waiting until March 16 to get an answer from Tom Brady," Schefter said on ESPN's "Get Up" program Thursday, referencing the start of the legal tampering period.

"Last year, Rob Gronkowski wound up retiring in late March. I don’t know the conversations they did and didn’t have before, but New England missed the window on free-agent tight ends. So I don’t think they’re going to let Tom Brady go to free agency, all of a sudden, sign with Team X, and then on March 20, say ‘Well, what do we do at quarterback now?’ That’s not the way that organization operates."

The comparison isn't a perfect one. Gronkowski was under contract and had a roster spot waiting for him if he wanted it. Brady isn't signed.

If anything, this time around, the Patriots have much greater control over the situation. If they don't want to get caught flat-footed at the position, they won't.


There's another issue that comes into play if the Patriots wait for Brady to see what's out on the market and make his free-agent decision: Dead money.

When Brady's contract was adjusted over the summer, he had cap hits of $6.75 million spread over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

If Brady is signed by the Patriots before the start of the new league year on March 18, then he'll have just $6.75 million added to whatever salary-cap hit comes with his new contract. If he signs after the new league begins, then $13.5 million hits the Patriots cap in addition to the cap hit associated with his new deal. 

Now play it out. If the Patriots want to get a deal done with Brady but there's uncertainty as to whether or not it gets done before the start of the new league year — perhaps negotiations will drag, perhaps Brady will want time to rack his brain before making a move — that impacts the math of what the Patriots can do elsewhere. 

The salary cap can be maneuvered in a number of different ways — which Belichick himself has acknowledged before — but the Patriots already have the fourth-most dead money counting against their books. Adding $13.5 million to that figure would inhibit how the Patriots can spend in 2020. 

It's yet another reason why the Patriots would like to know what they're doing with Brady before the legal tampering period begins.

We're 53 days away.

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NFL rumors: Tom Brady's agent, Don Yee, expected to meet with Patriots at NFL Combine

NFL rumors: Tom Brady's agent, Don Yee, expected to meet with Patriots at NFL Combine

The New England Patriots are facing a lot of unusual uncertainty at quarterback this offseason.

Tom Brady is set to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his 20-year NFL career and it seems legitimately possible that he may not return to the Patriots. At the moment, it's unclear where he'll end up and there won't likely settle on a landing spot until mid-March.

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But as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport pointed out on NFL Now, the Patriots are expected to have some more conversations with Brady and his agent, Don Yee, during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this week.

Though (Brady and Yee) have had some conversations with the Patriots since the Super Bowl, the playoffs, and all that, they haven’t really gotten into any hard-core negotiations. It is possible that begins here in Indianapolis. The two sides are expected to meet as, of course, every agent and every team meets. It should be the starting off point for real dialogue over the course of the next month. Either way, nothing's expected to happen until right up in the cusp of free agency. At that point, all sides should know what Brady’s plans are.

These rumors at least demonstrate that the Patriots are doing what they can to speak with Brady ahead of free agency. And as Tom E. Curran said on NBC Sports Boston's Boston Sports Tonight, it makes sense for the team to do this.

It makes sense that they get after it now because the guy's going to be a free agent in less than a month. And you better start moving forward with 'Okay, Tom, what do you want? Here are the things we're planning to do. Are you in, or are you out?' and then start talking numbers.

Curran would go on to say that he "wouldn't imagine [the meeting] to be climactic" if it does, in fact, happen. So, for those hoping that the Patriots will be able to lock up Brady ahead of free agency, it still seems highly unlikely to happen barring a chance of heart.

Brady will officially become an unrestricted free agent on March 18 and he is unlikely to last long on the open market. Though the 2020 free agent quarterback class is loaded, Brady still tops the bunch because of his history of high-level play and ability to win championships.


Report: Former Patriots great Kevin Faulk to coach running backs at LSU

Report: Former Patriots great Kevin Faulk to coach running backs at LSU

The New England Patriots have seen a lot of their former players go into coaching at the end of their careers. And another has recently landed a prominent coaching position in the collegiate ranks.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and The Athletic, former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk will be on the LSU coaching staff next season. Fittingly, Faulk will coach the team's running backs.

As Feldman mentioned, Faulk had been serving as the director of player personnel for the Tigers in each of the past two seasons. But now, he'll get his chance to coach along with Ed Orgeron and the defending national champs.

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While LSU is coming off a national title, they will be losing many players to the NFL, the most notable of which is Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow. Faulk will have his work cut out for him in the running back room, as the team's top rusher from 2019, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, is heading to the NFL as well.

But if anyone can get the most out of the LSU backs, it's Faulk. The former second-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft played collegiately at LSU and will be familiar with the program after playing there and working in player personnel for two years. And given his versatility as a player, he should be able to help coach up the LSU running backs in all facets of the game.

Faulk spent his entire 13-year career with the Patriots and was one of the league's best receiving backs during his day. He totaled 3,607 rushing yards, 3,701 receiving yards, and 31 total touchdowns in 161 regular season games while also earning three Super Bowl wins. He was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2016.