Brady, Patriots playing a game where the timing isn't right for either

Ron Borges

All it takes for Tom Brady to make national headlines these days is one click of his laptop. Such is the mounting hysteria over what – and more significantly where – his future lies.

Several days ago Brady, or one of his tech savvy minions, “liked’’ a tweet announcing that Philip Rivers would enter free agency, meaning Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers had not-so-mutually decided to split the sheets after 16 years. Immediately the drumbeat of “Brady to the Chargers!’’ intensified a rumor that has been floating around for months without any real substance.

Of course, when hysteria mounts substance becomes far less a requirement.

Brady is the leading name on a remarkable list of potential free-agent quarterbacks who may become available to the highest bidder March 18. On the surface it might seem unthinkable that a six-time Super Bowl champion would be allowed to walk, but in the New England of Bill Belichick there are no sacred GOATs. Not even the quarterback who saved Belichick’s career from the oblivion of chaos in Cleveland.

Brady would join a quarterbacking free-agent list that might include Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum and, of course, Rivers. At least two of them – Rivers and Keenum - are sure to be in new locales. Rivers has already packed up and left southern California for a home in Florida, and Keenum has played for four teams in four years and gotten rich in the process.

So his bags are always packed. As is his bank account.

So where does that leave Brady?

If people are honest about it, which the talking heads seldom are, nobody knows because Brady, Belichick and Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft have no idea themselves how this will play out. When Belichick and Kraft last offseason agreed to Brady’s demands for a one-year deal with no ability to franchise the quarterback, they lost their leverage and knew it. It is highly unlikely Belichick agreed to that without understanding he might be in the quarterback market on March 18, the first day of free agency.

The problem for him is that he has no viable alternative as yet, but that is not something he’s likely to be concerned about. He knows the history of 43-year-old quarterbacks is not good and that their upside is non-existent. The same is true of Brady who, while still better than most, proved last season that he could no longer lift a team alone, even with a reasonably stout (though proven overrated) defense in support of his efforts.

He now needs help, and Belichick’s roster as presently constituted doesn’t offer it. That will change between March 18 and the end of the draft, but it is not able to do so on the day Brady hits free agency ... if he does. And that is a problem because Brady wants to be convinced he is A) loved and B) going to get some weapons around him next season.

He can’t be sure of the latter when he hits the market.

That’s a problem for the Patriots but maybe not for Belichick, who has been acting for a couple of years like a football spouse ready to move on from the quarterback he’s been wedded to for 20 years.

Remember this date before you dismiss that idea: Nov. 8, 1993. That’s the day an arrogant young Belichick dumped Bernie Kosar who, difficult as it may be to believe today, was as much a God in Cleveland then as Brady is in New England today.

At the time, Vinny Testaverde, who replaced Kosar, was out with a shoulder injury. Belichick then turned the ball over to Todd Philcox, who immediately turned it over every other time he touched it. That move made Belichick a hated man in Cleveland, and it dogged him until he was ultimately fired.

Still, he did it, and he’d do it again. That’s how he rolls. Nothing personal. Just business.

Brady is threatening to take the same approach, although many locally have convinced themselves there’s no market for him. Really? A six-time Super Bowl champion who many consider the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL becomes available, and no one is interested?

One need only go back and look at that list of teams about to lose their own starter to reverse such thinking.

But Brady, too, is taking a risk. The problem for him is it’s a risk either way. If he stays for less money than he can get on the open market, and the team doesn’t surround him with more help in his final days in New England it won't be pleasant ... as this past season demonstrated. He will become grumpier and grumpier and more unwilling to work with young players who make mistakes.

Where that could lead is not good, but there is a long history of such endings for once great quarterbacks hoping for a last hurrah.

Then again, he would be unwise to just go for the money because places like the Chargers or the Bucs seem unlikely to provide him with what he needs to be able to mutter, “I told you so’’ when next season ends.

In recent days rumors have been floated that Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones might be interested because Dak Prescott is threatening to play hardball if the team franchises him to protect its rights rather than offer him a new contact worth $35-million a year. Brady may be leverage there in the short term, but do you really sign a 43-year-old GOAT and risk losing a 26-year-old guy who just threw for 4,900 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions?

Left to his own devices, Jones might. But it’s more likely that cooler – and wiser – heads will prevail in Big D.

That doesn’t mean you won’t hear about that possibility a hundred times between now and March 18, just as there were breathless reports of Giselle (Brady’s supermodel wife) having been seen in Nashville1 recently. Maybe it was her or maybe it was just a woman with high cheek bones and good hair. At the moment it doesn’t take much for rumors to fly.

The same is true of the whispers of Brady to the Chargers. His arrival might help ticket sales, but will he conclude he can compete there to win another Super Bowl? That would take some convincing.

Others have talked about Brady to Las Vegas with the Raiders, who are less than sold on Derek Carr. Perhaps so, but if Brady feels Belichick has become overbearing wait until he spends a weekend with Jon Gruden. Even in Vegas, I wouldn’t bet on that marriage.

What makes the most sense are the Tennessee Titans bringing in Brady to go with a powerful running game, strong offensive line and solid defense, assuming Tennessee can keep the bulk of its pieces in place. That might mean Tannehill would have to leave, but perhaps not. Certainly it would mean they would have to unload former No. 1 pick Marcus Mariota, who has looked and played like someone in need of a change of scenery.

And, after all, wasn’t Giselle just there! Maybe. Maybe not. But at the moment headline writers don’t care much about that, and social media cares even less. So rumors abound.

One interesting aspect of the Brady Watch is this: The timing is not good for either he or the Patriots. Together they built one of the greatest dynasties in sports history based on near-perfect timing. After 20 years together, this time the timing is all wrong for both.

If Brady needs his team to convince him it will surround him with more help in 2020 it can’t prove it before he hits free agency. Worse, there is ample evidence in the past that they won’t do it. So he can’t bank on history.

If Belichick needs time to work out a financial plan that is good for him and the team he, too, is lacking in time. On March 18 at 4 p.m. $13.5 million of dead money from Brady’s contract will drop onto his salary cap. Nothing he can do after that can remove it -- meaning that to avoid the hit he’d have to sign Brady before that date.

The problem there is that Brady forced the team’s hand to get a shot at free agency this offseason. It is highly unlikely he did that without being willing to play it out. Even Kraft has said he should test the market and then come back home, suggesting (without saying it) that someone has convinced him the market for Brady is not what his quarterback thinks.

If he’s right, the Patriots may win this bet. But with potentially seven teams facing the possibility of losing their quarterbacks in free agency it seems equally unlikely that one or more of them won’t blink when Brady’s name comes up, especially if they feel they are on the doorstep of Super Bowl Sunday.

If several do, everyone may be forced to move on whether it is good for them in the long run or not. This is how marriages breakup. Badly.

How it all plays out is anyone’s guess. Not even Brady or Belichick know. All they know for sure is that when free agency begins there will be a feeding frenzy for quarterbacks, and the biggest available meal is a GOAT.


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