Tom Brady 'Operating Under the Belief' He will Leave Patriots in Free Agency

Jason B. Hirschhorn

With the start of the new league year and free agency nearing, the future for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has begun to come into focus. According to ESPN's Jeff Darlington, Brady is "currently operating under the belief that he will enter free agency to play somewhere other than New England next season."

The biggest name set to hit the free-agent market this offseason, Brady will garner significant interest from quarterback-needy teams around the league. The Los Angeles Chargers, who parted ways with longtime starter Philip Rivers in early February, could make a compelling offer to the six-time champion given their roster (a strong set of skill-position players and an emerging defense) and financial resources (more than $49 million in available cap space). The Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts could also make a run at Brady.

Brady, who turns 43 in August, positioned himself for free agency last offseason by including terms in his renegotiated contract that prevent the Patriots from removing him from the open market with the franchise or transition tags. As with all impending free agents, Brady cannot begin formal negotiations with other teams until the legal-tampering window opens on March 16, two days before free agency. Until that time, New England has an exclusive negotiating window in which to reach a new deal with the three-time league MVP.

Whether the report constitutes a genuine development or a negotiating tactic designed to put the Patriots' feet to the fire remains unclear. Brady, who joined the organization as a sixth-round pick in 2000, has played in 285 games and made 283 starts with the same team under the same head coach, Bill Belichick. While several of the teams believed to have interest in Brady employ former New England staffers, any change of scenery will involve leaving a considerable amount of adjustment by the veteran quarterback.

-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH

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