At the open of the Patriots-Titans broadcast Saturday, CBS’ Tony Romo noted that this game in Gillette Stadium just felt different — like Michael Jordan’s last game as a member of the Bulls.
Was this Brady’s last game as New England’s QB? That question dominated postgame media coverage. Though he’s 42, he’s said retirement is “pretty unlikely.” He still feels like a kid, and he wants to keep playing in the NFL.
That can only mean one thing: Either Tom Brady will re-sign with the Pats, or he’ll join a new team for the 2020 season. And, in the heart of Patriots country, it’s considered a foregone conclusion that the latter outcome will play out.
But do the facts back that up? Let’s take a look at the background of this situation, combing all relevant reference materials.
TB12 is now a free agent for the first time in his 20-year career, and the Pats cannot assign the franchise tag to him.
Ahead of this season, the deal Brady had signed in March 2016 — which gave the Pats options in case Jimmy G. had become the starter — expired. Figuring out the terms of an extension this offseason dragged out, which frustrated Brady’s camp. New England eventually pulled off some clever financial shenanigans to alleviate cap pressure on the franchise while giving the GOAT a minor raise on essentially a one-year deal.
It was a very team-friendly move. Again.
Brady’s camp, wanting a longer-term deal and more bread, was justifiably unhappy with how it played out. The team put little respect on his name. He has repeatedly accepted less money than he could’ve garnered in the six contracts he’s signed throughout his career, not expecting New England to match the salary given to other top QBs like Peyton Manning. And, of course, Brady has repeatedly led the team to Super Bowls while posting All-Pro numbers.
Now, he reportedly has no interest in giving a ‘hometown discount’ — and the Pats’ handling of his past two deals has done little to endear him to the franchise. There’s also the strong chance that Brady would command a much bigger deal on the open market from a team needing a QB for next season.
Immediately after the loss to the Titans, Brady predictably said he doesn’t know what the future holds — but he sure sounded like a guy saying his farewells.
“I love the Patriots,” he said at the postgame presser. “It’s the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. [Robert] Kraft all these years, and for Coach [Bill] Belichick, there’s nobody who’s had a better career, I would say, than me — just being with them. So I’m very blessed. I don’t know what the future looks like, so I’m not going to predict it.”
Brady also paid tribute to the fans, who chanted his name throughout the game and held signs imploring him to stick around.
“I personally appreciate everything they’ve contributed — not just this year, but a lot of years,” he said. “Just very grateful for the experience playing this year for the team, this organization, and over the course of my career, too. I appreciate it. I hope I’ve always tried to do the right thing out there. Who knows what the future holds? So I’ll leave it at that.”
He seemed to be channeling his Sam Smith. If Brady wasn’t already thinking about leaving New England before this season, he was given ample reason to consider a change of scenery during a maddening 2019 campaign.
Brady didn’t look like himself. Remember that New England struggled in 2018, too (in fact, the Pats actually posted a better record this season), and then consider this: from 2018 to 2019, Brady’s completion percentage dropped by 5 percentage points, he threw five fewer TDs, and his QBR dropped by 10. He wasn’t Vintage Tom Brady in 2018…and really wasn’t himself in 2019.
In what could be his final home game, he completed 54.1% of his passes for 209 yards, zero TDs and a game-clinching interception. That sound like Tom Brady to you? This season, he was below average in Total QBR, slotting between Jameis Winston and rookie Daniel Jones.
Of course, you can’t pin it all on the vet. The retirement of Gronk had unexpectedly seismic effects on New England’s offense. After missing out on signing Jared Cook, defenses double- and triple-teamed Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown lasted all of one game, Josh Gordon was unexpectedly waived, no other skill-position weapons emerged, and despite their fleet of backs, the Pats failed to establish the run game.
The offense wasn’t inept, but it wasn’t good either. Brady’s frustration was visible in his body language and evident in sound bites.
Despite many of the same old faces in place (Belichick, Brady, McDaniels, Edelman), this was not a QB who liked his offense — and there’s little reason to believe that unit will look much different next season.
As you’d expect, Bill Belichick has said nothing valuable on the subject, side-stepping questions. But Belichick may be the key figure in this tango.
In December, Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., said “everything is up in the air” but also said the ball is in the coach’s court.
“You know, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to envision him playing somewhere else. He wants to play. But ultimately, it’s Bill’s decision,” Tom Sr. said. “Nobody really knows. Bill doesn’t tip his hand. There’s just been insinuations here and there. This is really kind of between those two. They got to decide what they want.
“If Bill says he doesn’t want Tommy, and Tommy wants to play, well, Joe Montana went to Kansas City … just because Bill decides he wants to move on, that won’t dictate Tommy’s future. I’m sure there are a few other teams in the league that would want him.”
The QB and coach have had a sometimes tenuous relationship during their two decades together.
In 2017, Belichick banned Brady’s trainer/nutritionist/business partner Alex Guerrero from New England’s sideline. Guerrero had a history of butting heads with the team’s training staff — not only as it pertained to Brady, but also other players like Gronk — and Belichick was fed up, so the coach made a power move.
Brady considers the trainer a family member, and he was none too pleased by Belichick’s decision. Brady attributes his longevity to the alternative medicine practitioner, with whom he started the TB12 business and popularized the term ‘pliability.’ Now with two TB12 sports therapy centers in Massachusetts, they have plans to expand nationwide. The QB’s retirement plans clearly involve Guerrero.
Oh, one more thing: Guerrero also listed his Boston home for sale this fall.
The rumors of Brady considering an employment change heated up this fall when his family’s Massachusetts home hit the market. He and wife Gisele had the home custom-built in 2015, and they first listed it for sale in August 2019 for $39.5 million.
With the listing failing to get traction, they slashed the price to $33.9 million in October. Usually, a price reduction that dramatic doesn’t occur that quickly unless the buyer is really trying to get out of there. The house is still on the market.
The listing called to mind LeBron buying a Los Angeles crib in December 2017. Seven months later, he signed with the Lakers.
After a brutally disappointing season with Mitchell Trubisky under center, the Bears are reportedly considering adding a QB. Brady seems to fit with Matt Nagy’s system, the team has talent, and Brady is accustomed to playing in a cold climate.
Some have floated the idea of another team that entered 2019 with Super Bowl aspirations but missed the playoffs — the Dallas Cowboys — because you know Jerry Jones would love to stick it to Robert Kraft. But Dak Prescott was a borderline MVP candidate, has continually improved, and is only 26. This seemed like more of a possibility when Josh McDaniels was a potential candidate in Dallas and now, with Mike McCarthy at the helm in Big D, is a long shot.
Other options: the Colts, Raiders (relocating to Las Vegas), Buccaneers, and Panthers. All of those make a good degree of sense, especially based on the cap space the Colts and Bucs will have in March.
Could Brady possibly follow Josh McDaniels if the OC goes to the Browns? While it does make some sense, this would be a doubtful option based on the Browns not having a ton of cap space, and also the fact that McDaniels is probably trying to separate from Brady and the Patriots.
Probably the most likely and interesting option is the Los Angeles Chargers. Brady is a California kid and Philip Rivers is a free agent. The Bolts, like Cleveland, underachieved in 2019 despite being loaded with talent. And CBS reported in October that the Chargers would have “a unique appeal” to Brady.
Three things you know will factor into his decision: the team’s Super Bowl potential, the prospective legacy boost, and the attractiveness of the market.
Guerrero said Brady wants to play until 46 or 47. Tom Sr. said if New England doesn’t want him, other teams will. And Brady himself has told everyone to cool it with the retirement talk.
He’s not hanging his cleats up this offseason. We will see Tom Brady play football again in 2020.
Belichick has a long history of moving on from players — even beloved figures in New England like Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour — when he believes their prime has been exhausted. His ruthless ability to divorce emotion from reason has played a big role in him becoming the most successful NFL coach ever. You are not a person to him; you are an asset. He doesn’t make exceptions.
Fans will forever debate whether Brady or Belichick was the primary reason for New England’s dynastic run — Brady wasn’t great at Michigan, and Belichick wasn’t great in Cleveland, so who was the real genius in this equation? Seemingly the only way to settle that debate is for them to compete, and some have suggested they’re motivated to show their stuff without each other. That might sound petty, but given each man’s extreme competitive edge and the history of their relationship, it might be a reasonable train of thought.
As the man who signs the checks, Robert Kraft will also have a voice in this decision, and Kraft’s choice of Brady over Garoppolo is worth keeping in mind. But, as Tom Sr. explained, it seems this is ultimately about the coach and QB. Little is known about the details of Belichick’s contract, but it seems it’s up to him to decide when he leaves. Don’t expect him to allow a player to force him out.
So, what does Tom Brady’s future hold? ESPN reports this truly is a “wait and see” type situation. But we know what the evidence says. Tom Brady will suit up for a different NFL team in 2020. Put your money on it. Our best guess, he ends up in Los Angeles with the Chargers.