Patriots

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.

PATIENCE EQUALS RISK

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.

DÉJÀ VU?

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.

THE MONEY MATTER

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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Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady's future with the New England Patriots is currently up in the air. But at least he's still taking some time to give his Patriots teammates some love on social media.

N'Keal Harry dropped a post on Instagram Friday night that had a picture of him in workout gear at a football practice facility. And the caption with the photo simply read "Cookin' Up".

Here's a look at the post, per Harry's official Instagram account. 

View this post on Instagram

Cookin’ Up👨🏾‍🍳🔥

A post shared by N'Keal Harry (@nkealharry) on

That post should be encouraging enough for Patriots fans, as Harry had some nice moments as a rookie and if he continues to put in work, the first-round pick should improve heading into his second season.

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But Brady weighing in on Harry's post with a motivational comment? That could be even better news for Patriots fans.

Brady's comment read: "Going to be a great year for you" and he tagged Harry's handle in it. Here's a screenshot of the comment, per NESN's Zack Cox. 

That's certainly a nice gesture and it seems Brady is continuing to support his (perhaps soon-to-be-former) teammates despite his uncertain future.

However, skeptics of Brady's potential return will point out that the QB said only "it's going to be a great year for you" when talking about Harry's upcoming season. He could've said us had he known that he was returning to the team, but it's also highly unlikely that he was thinking about that minor difference when posting the comment.

Either way, Brady's future with the Patriots is murky and it remains to be seen what will happen come the official start of free agency March 18. For the time being, at least he's staying in touch with his teammates on social media.

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

The New England Patriots have been the subject of many NFL Combine meeting stories over the years. And 2020 has been no different.

Notably, the team told one tight end prospect that he had a "loser's mentality" at one point in their interview. They also asked one of the quarterback prospects how he would feel to replace Tom Brady. And an LSU tight end said that he was "kinda scared" in his meeting with the team.

Some haven't minded the meetings. And one Clemson Tiger actually "felt comfortable" talking to the Patriots.

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Still, the same can't be said of former Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney had a formal meeting with the Patriots at the combine and he called his interview with New England "tough" and "awkward".

"That was one of the harder meetings that I had. It was a little tough, a little awkward," McKinney said, per Nora Princiotti of The Boston Globe. "But Vinnie Sunseri was in there so it just made me a little more comfortable just knowing that I’ve been in the room with him plenty of other times. It was a good meeting though."

Sunseri joined the Patriots coaching staff this offseason but the former Alabama safety had previously served as a graduate assistant with Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban before. So, he had a connection with McKinney, which eased his nerves a bit.

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But McKinney said he just felt "uncertain" about the meeting coming out of it.

"Just towards the end, I wasn’t sure if they enjoyed the meeting or if I did well," McKinney said. "You kind of walk out of these meetings kind of uncertain sometimes. But I think that’s just how it goes. You just try to do the best you can."

McKinney has a good point and players often are unsure about what teams think of them. That's by design. Some teams really don't like to tip their hand in the lead-up to the draft, and the Patriots are certainly among those that keep their intentions close to the vest. 

So, it's well within the realm of possibility that the team liked McKinney. They just may not want him to realize that right away.

McKinney had 95 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions in his final season at Alabama. He's expected to be one of the first safeties off the board and our own Phil Perry mocked him to the Patriots in his first NFL mock draft of the offseason in January.