The last time the Patriots played a game without Tom Brady under contract was Jan. 2, 2000. In the ensuing two decades, Brady emerged from obscurity to build a Hall of Fame resume as New England happily watched Super Bowl wins pile up.
For years, Patriots fans have wondered about the day when Brady would no longer be on the team. The prevailing assumption has been that Brady would retire as a Patriot, having played the entirety of his career with the team that drafted him in the sixth round.
According to multiple Patriots beat writers, the expectation remains that Brady will retire in New England.
Despite that, there continues to be speculation that Brady could leave for another NFL team following the 2020 season.
Here’s a look at the reasons for Brady’s possible New England exit, why experts have differing opinions on the subject, and what the Patriots’ quarterback has said about all of the speculation.
His contract won’t actually run through the 2021 season.
In August, the Patriots appeared to do what the team has always done with Brady. With the six-time Super Bowl winner heading into the final year of his deal, the team gave him an extension.
The new contract was initially reported as a two-year extension, keeping Brady in New England through the 2021 season. However NFL insider Ian Rapoport quickly reported some additional details that changed the complexion of the deal.
According to Rapoport, the new agreement between Brady and the Patriots raised his 2019 salary from $15 million up to $23 million. Second, and crucially, the additional years in the contract would be voided at the end of the 2019 league year (which happens on March 17, 2020).
In other words, Brady is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2019 season.
“Someone can call Tom Brady at 4:01 at the start of the league year in 2020 and try to sign Tom Brady,” Rapoport said on NFL Network in August. “All of this is factually correct. I will also add that the relationship between Brady and the Patriots is very good and the Patriots want to do everything they can to make sure that he plays well with them. But still, Tom Brady will be, if for just one second, a free agent after this season.”
Normally, the Patriots would have the option — per NFL roster rules — of placing a franchise or transition tag on Brady, thus retaining him for another season. This won’t be possible, however, as a specific provision in the extension was that the Patriots aren’t allowed to franchise or transition tag Brady.
“It’s basically a compromise,” Rapoport told NFL Network. “What the Patriots wanted to do is a little raise this year, $8 million. They did not want to hamstring themselves for future years. What if, let’s just say Brady decides to walk away if they win the Super Bowl? This way, they didn’t hurt themselves cap-wise. But Brady wants to make sure they can’t just lock him in with the franchise tag with no negotiations. Nobody wants to play on the tag, everyone wants something long-term. So it’s basically a compromise that hurts both sides a little bit, but helps both sides a little bit and helped them come to this deal.”
His Brookline home is up for sale.
A much more straightforward reason for the speculation about Brady’s future is the status of his house.
The obvious implication is that Brady is preparing to move, furthering the narrative that he is eyeing a departure from the Patriots.
Brady has pointed out that he’s sold properties before without switching teams (including a mansion in Los Angeles, which Dr. Dre bought for a reported $40 million).
An additional note to Brady’s Brookline home being put up for sale is that his business partner and personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, also placed his house on the market in August.
Adam Schefter believes Brady returning to the Patriots is the ‘least likely’ option.
Exactly what Brady’s contract status and attempted home sale mean for his future with the Patriots beyond the 2019 season is a point of disagreement among football reporters.
On one side is ESPN insider Adam Schefter. Prior to the Patriots’ Monday night win over the Jets, Schefter made his case for why he thinks Brady will leave New England in free agency in 2020.
“Let’s boil this down to the basic facts once again,” Schefter said. “Let’s look at some simple things: Has he put his home for sale? Yes. Has his trainer put his home for sale? Yes. Has he set up his contract to void after this season to become a free agent? Yes. So, if he’s selling his home and his trainer is selling his home and he’s voiding his contract? What does that tell you? He’s setting up to move on.”
"So if he's selling his home and his trainer is selling his home and he's voiding his contract, what does that tell you?"@AdamSchefter weighed in on Tom Brady's future, and whether or not it will continue to be with the Patriots. pic.twitter.com/rZnCVWMHkY
— ESPN (@espn) October 22, 2019
Later in the week, Schefter doubled down during an appearance on ESPN’s morning talk show, “Get Up.”
“I would just say, look, there are three options: He’s either staying in New England, he’s retiring, or he’s going to play somewhere else,” Schefter explained. “I would think of those three, that staying in New England would seem like the least likely option of the three, but we’ll see.”
As has been pointed out, Schefter is one of the NFL’s most trusted reporters, regularly breaking news. His comments — even in this case speculative ones — carry greater clout than most.
Patriots writers disagree with Schefter’s speculation.
On the other side of the argument are several experts on the subject of Patriots news, including reporters Ben Volin of The Boston Globe and Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston.
Volin explored the possible scenario of Brady hitting free agency in a recent column.
“Where is he possibly going to go that’s better?” Volin wrote. “Where will he have a better head coach than Bill Belichick, or a receiver with whom he has a better connection than Julian Edelman, or a better offensive line coach than Dante Scarnecchia, or a better defense? Where will Brady have a better chance to win a seventh (or eighth) Super Bowl?”
“It is hard to envision a future in which Brady is playing for another NFL team,” Volin concluded. “But it’s not hard to picture Brady riding off into retirement after 2019.”
Curran made his own case against the speculation about Brady leaving New England during a recent appearance on WEEI. He reported during the interview that Guerrero’s house — listed for sale in August — had sold, and that a new home had been bought in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
“That kind of shoots a cannon-sized hole,” Currant said of Schefter’s theory about Brady. “So basing the real estate decisions of Brady and Guerrero as smoking gun evidence that he’s about to leave, what does that tell us now that Guerrero bought a house in Plymouth? To me, the real estate stuff is moot anyway.”
.@TomECurran tells @MutWEEI that Alex Guerrero's house has sold and he bought a new house in Plymouth, MA. Curran also believes Brady will "take a visit or two" with other teams but will ultimately return to the Patriots. pic.twitter.com/JyHN23fBSB
— Mut at Night (@MutAtNightWEEI) October 25, 2019
While Curran acknowledged on his podcast that he believes Brady “could could go elsewhere,” he said that Schefter “rehashed an old story” regarding Brady and Guerrero’s homes. Additionally, he sees Brady returning to the Patriots.
“I don’t feel that way,” Curran said of Schefter’s belief that Brady is “least likely” to re-sign in New England among his options. “I feel Tom Brady eventually will work something out, despite the fact he’s going to have worse stats most likely in 2019 than he did in 2018 and the Patriots are going to go to him and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not sure we want to give you a raise.'”
Curran believes the Patriots may let Brady test the market, as the team did with Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and Randy Moss in past years (all of whom eventually returned to New England). In the scenario where Brady actually does leave, Curran said he thinks it will be because Belichick simply moves on from his longtime quarterback with an eye on the future.
What Brady has said about speculation regarding his future.
In a recent interview on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show,” Brady gave an expansive answer about not knowing what his own future will hold.
“I think that’s the great part for me is I don’t know,” Brady responded. “And I think that’s been a unique situation that I’ve been in because I think when you commit to a team for a certain amount of years, you kind of feel like your responsibility’s to always fulfill the contract. For me it’s been good because I’m just taking it day by day and I’m enjoying what I have.
“I don’t know what the future holds and the great part is for me is football is all borrowed time,” Brady continued. “I never expected to play 20 years, and I’m playing on a great team, and it’s just been an incredible 20 years of my life. To play for Mr. Kraft, Jonathan [Kraft], the Kraft family and for Coach [Bill] Belichick, and to have so much success is a dream come true.
“One day I’ll wake up and I’ll feel like, ‘Ok, that’ll be enough,’ and when that day comes, that day comes,” Brady explained. “I don’t know if it’ll be after this year, I don’t know if it’ll be five years from now. But I don’t have to determine those things right now either, so that’s kind of a good part where I’m at. So I think just take advantage of the opportunity that I have this year and do the very best I can do, and then those decisions come at probably more appropriate times.”
On his contract, Brady initially described how he’s aware that he’s in “uncharted territory.”
“I mean, it’s really the reality for most guys in the NFL,” said Brady in August. “I don’t want to think I’m any different than anyone else. Football is a tough business. It’s a production business. I’m ready to go this year and that’s really what matters. That’s where my focus is. It’s a unique situation I’m in. I’m in my 20th year with the same team. I’m 42 years old, so pretty much uncharted territory I think for everybody. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can this year and see what happens.
Asked about the renewed speculation this week, Brady appeared tired of the subject.
“My contract situation hasn’t changed in many months,” Brady said at a Friday press conference. “I don’t know why it gets brought up now. I don’t know. I think it’s just hype, media, and you know, everyone’s trying to make money.”
“It’s just part of being Tom Brady, I guess,” Brady added.
And as for the sale of his home, Brady answered the question in August.
“You shouldn’t read into anything,” said Brady. “I think it takes a long time to sell a house. My house is a little bit of an expensive one, so it doesn’t fly off the shelf in a couple weeks.”