The Sensible Guide to Tom Brady's Free Agency Options

Tom Brady is going to generate a ton of headlines as he embarks on free agency for the first time. You can ignore most of them.
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This isn’t sexy enough to formulate the basis of a guerilla marketing campaign for an overpriced television streaming service, but the only realistic place for Tom Brady to play football next year is for the Patriots in Foxborough and believing anything else says more about you and your desire to suspend reality on the internet for a few short minutes on a given day.

Because Brady is an impending free agent, there will be posturing and politicking. Not even the greatest player in football history is exempt from a good old-fashioned game of anonymous source roshambo. The NFL Network, on the eve of the sport’s biggest moment, reported that Brady is amenable to returning if they’re willing to make it “worth his while.” That means salary demands befitting of a top quarterback. That means the Patriots acquiring a wide receiver we’ve heard of. That means actually caving and letting him win Patriot of the Week every now and then (kidding).

Here’s the “Or Else” in this scenario:

• Pay me and acquire weapons or I’ll sign with the L.A. Chargers: Brady’s big leverage play seems to be a team in Los Angeles with a struggling offensive line and an aging weapon set. Keenan Allen would rank among the best receivers Brady has ever played with. Anthony Lynn is a great coach with some forward-thinking offensive principals. And Brady would be the rare ploughshare tortoise exhibit in the massive billion-dollar zoo the team has found itself roped into through a bit of poor negotiating. He would be wooed for the first time in his football life and, like the rare tortoise, would be subject to some immediate and intense fanfare before the novelty wore off. Will spending the rest of his career in relative anonymity be preferable to leaving the place where he is endlessly adored and cared for?

• Pay me and acquire weapons or I’ll sign with the Las Vegas Raiders: To which, if I were Bill Belichick, I would say…go right ahead. Please, do us a favor and leave one of the most efficient, tailored-to-you offenses in football history for a coach whose play calls are so wordy they require their own set of footnotes. We’ll take Derek Carr and you can see us in the next four Super Bowls.

There seems to be some detritus floating around about the Dallas Cowboys as well—spread by Michael Irvin, of all people—though it’s a projected trade that has more in common with the flat earth theory than anything tethered to reality. Let’s agree that if Mike McCarthy and Jerry Jones are dumb enough to trade an in-prime Dak Prescott to the New England Patriots for the chance to pay a 43-year-old the same amount of money, our world is headed for its rightful hellscape much faster than initially projected.

The point of all this is to say that we have a choice this offseason in how to view the theater. It is easier to fall for the marketing campaign; to believe that this is The Decision 2.0 and that no matter where this player goes, a seismic, planetary shift takes place. It’s more fun to believe that there are myriad options and scenarios. In reality, Brady can stay in New England and have a fitting end to his career or he can probably go to the Chargers as a gate attraction while they try to figure out how they’ll conjure a fan base out of nothing. The world will move on. Andy Dalton will throw for 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions with the Patriots and they’ll win the AFC East again.

But even that sounds a little fantastical. A little bit like we’re being pulled along by someone who has a plan but is good enough to monetize and monopolize our attention in the meantime.