Patriots

Patriots

Tampering happens.

You can't stop it. You can only hope to contain it if you're the NFL.

That job becomes next to impossible in a few weeks when the entire league descends upon Indianapolis for its annual scouting combine from Feb. 23 to Mar. 2.

The city will of course be littered with future draftees, as well as scouts and coaches. But Indy will also be teeming with agents and front-office personnel who understand that the start of the new league year and the kickoff to free agency drops on Mar. 18. To that end, the last week in February can matter as much or more to veteran players looking for new contracts as it does to the incoming rookies hoping to clock good 40 times.

Though agents are not permitted to negotiate for their clients with other teams until the legal tampering period on Mar. 16 and 17, people will be talking in Indy. Feelers will be placed. Markets will be gauged. Even if deals aren't struck, certain players will have a clearer sense of where they stand in the eyes of prospective clubs once their reps have returned from the Hoosier State.

Tom Brady will be a talking point in Indy for the first time since he was drafted.

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Brady's dive into the free-agent waters is unprecedented. He's never reached free agency before. No one who's come close to accomplishing what he has -- only two seasons removed from an MVP year and one season removed from a Super Bowl title -- has hit the open market at his age. Even Peyton Manning, who was released by the Colts in 2012, doesn't compare. Because of his break with Indy, he had almost two weeks to tour the league and settle on a best landing spot for his late-30s playing days.

 

Not only are Brady's representatives banned from negotiating on his behalf prior to the legal tampering window, but Brady himself is not allowed to make visits to or speak directly with interested clubs until his contract with the Patriots expires on Mar. 18. 

Here's why the combine matters: While the tampering may have already started to some extent, Brady may not get his first real whiff of the details of his market until people who matter are mingling in bars, restaurants, hotels and convention center nooks and crannies in Indianapolis.

Are there a half-dozen teams who could feasibly compete with Brady aboard -- the Colts, Bears, Chargers, Raiders, Bucs and Titans would all fit that description -- who are willing to offer him a lucrative multi-year deal? Or is the number of teams truly interested in investing in Brady smaller than that? Are there only a couple who are willing to take on a 43-year-old, go all-in from a roster-building perspective, and give him the leeway to import his offense?

That's the type of information that could be gleaned, if it hasn't been already, when the combine hits.

It comes as little surprise then that Brady and the Patriots have not yet taken part in contract negotiations, as our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran has noted and ESPN's Mike Reiss reiterated this week.

Brady wants to hit free agency. We learned that when he had the franchise tag option removed from his contract last offseason. Why would Brady's team and the Patriots begin talking numbers now if Brady -- who wants to get to free agency to see what's out there for him -- doesn't have a concrete understanding of what other clubs would be willing to offer?

Once the combine comes and goes, then it would make sense for the two sides to talk. Is there common ground to be reached? Are the numbers thrown Brady's way from other franchises going to be so exorbitant that the Patriots would quickly move on?

Hard to know right now. But that information is coming. People talk. Tampering happens. Especially in Indy.