For the last two decades, the Patriots have enjoyed a dream scenario at the quarterback position. Plucked from sixth-round obscurity in the 2000 draft, New England watched as its young quarterback led the team to its first Super Bowl in improbable circumstances in 2002. Two years later, he did it again. Then, over the next 15 years, he did it four more times.
Tom Brady, as of 2020, has more Super Bowl rings than any other player in history. Yet, as Brady has frequently repeated over the years, his favorite ring remains “the next one.” Now 42, Brady’s insatiable thirst to win championships appears to be as strong as it ever was.
In a recent Instagram post, Brady — coming to terms with a disappointing playoff loss to the Titans on Saturday — seemed to signal an intent to keep playing at age 43 in 2020 by declaring, “I know I still have more to prove.”
If Brady does in fact play another season, there’s also a question of whether it will be for the Patriots or another team. For the first time in his career, he can become a free agent and sign elsewhere.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the important issues regarding Brady and the Patriots in the offseason:
What’s the situation with his current contract?
In August, it initially appeared that Brady and the Patriots had agreed to a multiyear extension. Announced on August 4, the deal was first reported to be worth $70 million, keeping Brady in New England through the 2021 season.
Yet the next day, details emerged that fundamentally changed the interpretation of the new contract. The two-year extension (covering the 2020 and 2021 seasons) automatically voids on the last day of the 2019 league year.
Sources: #Patriots QB Tom Brady’s new deal includes a provision that does not allow NE to franchise or transition tag him for the 2020 season. The final two years automatically void on the last day of the 2019 league year, but he cannot be tagged. Brady will be a free agent.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 5, 2019
The other provision in the deal was that the Patriots couldn’t place either a franchise or transition tag on Brady.
This means that unless New England agrees to a new deal with Brady beforehand, his contract with the team will void on March 17. He will then be able to start negotiating with other teams on March 18 when the new league year formally begins.
Why did the Patriots even agree to the extension years if they automatically void?
The technical answer, essentially, is that it was done for salary cap purposes. Using voidable contract years allows teams to spread out a cap hit over more than just one season.
The big picture answer is that neither Brady nor the Patriots were able to find an acceptable multiyear deal that both sides wanted. The result was that New England gave Brady a short-term raise while freeing up cap space.
If the Patriots wish to bring Brady back for another season, it’s advantageous for the team to agree to a new contract with him prior to March 17 (when his deal voids). This is obviously because New England won’t have other teams competing to sign Brady prior to March 18, but also — as the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin noted — the Patriots can spread out Brady’s $13.5 in singing bonus money over two seasons instead of it all being on the books in 2020 if the new deal is agreed before the contract voids.
Even if Brady becomes a free agent, New England can still sign him after March 18 (though, again, there would be less than ideal salary cap implications for letting his deal void).
Is he likely to retire?
Since Brady is 42 (and will turn 43 before he potentially plays meaningful football again), it’s a plausible scenario that he could retire.
However, compared with Brady possibly staying with the Patriots or leaving to play elsewhere, retirement seems like the least likely outcome.
First, there is Brady’s stated desire — originally heard in 2017 — to play until he’s 45. In theory, this would mean he still has at least three seasons to go.
Earlier in the 2019 season, Brady said that “nothing has changed” around his plans for the future.
In the aftermath of the playoff loss, Brady characterized the retirement possibility as “pretty unlikely.”
Additionally, there was Brady’s Instagram quote on Wednesday in which he finished by saying he still has “more to prove.”
What teams would he potentially leave the Patriots for?
While the thought of Brady in a different uniform horrifies Patriots fans, it’s theoretically possible in 2020.
One of the more frequently discussed destinations for a post-Patriots Brady would be the Los Angeles Chargers. NFL insider Jay Glazer speculated that the Chargers, currently trying to grow a fan base in the team’s new city, would benefit from making a big push for Brady should he hit free agency.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 8, 2020
ESPN reporter Mike Reiss put forward the Titans as a worthy suitor, given the team’s strong rushing attack as well as the coaching presence of Brady’s former teammate, Mike Vrabel.
Another intriguing possibility was mentioned by former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who thinks Indianapolis is the right fit.
“The best spot might be Indianapolis,” Dungy told Rich Eisen in a recent interview. “I know they’ve been bitter rivals but they’ve got good young receivers, a lot of speed, a great running back, a tremendous offensive line, and a defense in place. Jacoby Brissett started off great, but there’s no established quarterback. They’ve got a lot of weapons there and were a playoff team last year.”
What have Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft said about Brady’s future?
Predictably, Belichick hasn’t been forthcoming on specifics regarding Brady.
Asked if he has a “timeline” for sitting down to talk with his longtime quarterback, the Patriots’ coach had a simple reply.
“No,” said Belichick.
Still, Belichick did shed some light on the process involved with roster decisions in the NFL offseason, mentioning Brady by name.
“Everybody’s situation on the team is different,” Belichick said in his season-ending press conference. “There are no two that are exactly the same, but the future is the future for all of them just like it is for Tom and anybody else you want to bring up. Certainly, Tom’s an iconic figure in this organization, and nobody respects Tom more than I do. I respect all of the other players and all of the other coaches in this organization, too. I think that everybody that is part of it is an important part of it, and I want to give the proper attention and communication and detail and thought into my input into those decisions.
“But, any decision’s made – it’s not an individual decision,” Belichick added. “There are other people involved, and so there has to be some type of communication, understanding, agreement – whatever you want to call it – and that’s not a one-way street. I hope you can understand that. One person just can’t decide what everybody else is going to do when players aren’t under contract, and we have lot of players that aren’t under contract.”
Belichick said “now is not the time” for him to openly talk about Brady’s future. The next time reporters get a chance to question him will be in late March. By that time, Brady’s future for the 2020 season will likely already be decided.
Belichick speaks for 15 minutes, won’t say anything about Brady’s future, and that’s it. We won’t hear from him again until the owners meetings in late March. A lot will happen between now and then pic.twitter.com/dvyx2TgvYl
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 5, 2020
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been more forthright in stating his desire for Brady to be back in New England next season.
“I just hope and pray we fit into his plans,” Kraft said of Brady to NFL insider Peter King. “He is unique in the kind of leader he is, his work ethic, his selfless nature, everything. Think about it: He’s been with us 20 percent of the life of the NFL.”
In the same interview with King, Kraft explained why he was OK with Brady having a chance to leave if he wants.
“Before the season started, it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year,” Kraft noted. “You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to six Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right.
“I love the young man like he’s part of my family,” Kraft continued. “Blood family. Anyone who’s done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years. And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”