For some, it is impossible to imagine Tom Brady in any uniform other than New England’s. Yet that seems to be exactly what he's trying to do.
The winningest quarterback in NFL history’s move toward free agency has been the dominant story of the offseason. After 20 years and six Super Bowl wins with the Patriots, what does he want, will he be able to get it and who can give it to him?
It remains to be seen whether he actually follows through and agrees to a contract with a new team next week, when free agency negotiations begin Monday. But if he does legitimately explore other options it is realistic the Tennessee Titans are one of the franchises he will consider.
Here are some of the reasons he would be a good fit in Tennessee:
• A matter of trust: With all he has accomplished, Brady has earned the trust of coaches and franchise officials in New England. That allows him to skip offseason workouts, send messages through the media and generally do whatever he feels he needs to be at his best and to get the best out of his team.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel understands Brady and his impact better than any NFL head coach this side of Bill Belichick. Vrabel, after all, was one of Brady’s teammates with the Patriots from 2001-08, which would allow him to give the quarterback the leeway to which he has been accustomed. Any other coach likely would not be comfortable doing so, and that could lead to friction.
• Offensive flexibility: If Brady does move, it will be more important for his new team to adapt to him and the things with which he is comfortable than vice versa. To expect him to change the way he plays now would be like signing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be your point guard.
Arthur Smith, the Titans’ offensive coordinator, showed the range and adaptability of his scheme and his play-calling in 2019, his first season on the job when the Titans switched from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The changes were not dramatic, but Smith quickly got a feel for what Tannehill did well and focused on those things. He should have no problem doing the same with Brady.
Contrast that with the other teams reportedly set to pursue Brady. The Las Vegas Raiders are led by head coach Jon Gruden, whose history as a play-caller in the NFL dates back to 1995 and whose rigid devotion to his playbook has created tension with other quarterbacks.
It is a similar situation in Tampa Bay with Bruce Arians, who has called his own plays for almost as long as Brady has been in the league. Same thing in San Francisco, where head coach Kyle Shanahan is a second-generation play-caller married to many of his father’s philosophies. The Los Angeles Chargers have a first-time coordinator in Shane Steichen, a 34-year-old eight years younger than Brady who probably does not know as much about offense as Brady does.
Competition could come from Indianapolis led by head coach Frank Reich, who widely is viewed as one of the game’s best offensive minds. But keep in mind it was the Colts,, although with a different regime in place, that turned Brady in during the 2014 AFC Championship Game for allegedly deflating footballs. Jim Irsay, however, still owns the Colts, and it's quite possible Brady does not hold the Colts in high regard following the aggravation of Deflategate.
• Chance to win: The one thing certain in all of this is that Brady will not go somewhere as part of a rebuilding project. Winning is an addiction with him and whether it’s the Patriots or another team, he will make his choice with the idea that he will have the opportunity to add to his six Super Bowl victories.
Tennessee was one victory from playing in the Super Bowl last season, and that playoff march began with a victory over Brady and the Patriots in the wild card round. Kansas City won it all this year after having lost in the AFC Championship – to Brady and the Patriots – the previous season.
So, Brady knows just how good the Titans are and just what a difference he could make in this regard.
The only real competition in this regard is San Francisco, which lost to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The Chargers, Colts, Raiders and Buccaneers all finished with losing records in 2019.
• On the run: At 42 years old (he will turn 43 early in training camp), it is likely that Brady does not want to have to do it all in 2020 and beyond. The Titans were one of three teams – and the only one of Brady’s potential landing spots – to average at least 5.0 yards per rushing attempt in 2019. That ground game featured Derrick Henry, the league’s leading rusher in the regular season and postseason.
In all the years Brady has been in the NFL, New England’s best rushing average was 4.4 yards per carry (2013). Plus, only once did he have a running back gain as many yards as Henry did last season – Corey Dillon racked up 1,635 yards in 2004, a campaign that ended with Brady’s third Super Bowl victory. Henry, however, is scheduled to be a free agent next week.
• Talented targets: Outside of Julian Edelman and the now-retired Rob Gronkowski, Brady has worked with a relatively pedestrian group of receivers in recent years.
Tennessee offers Adam Humphries, exactly the type of slot receiver Brady has favored throughout his career. In fact, when Humphries was a free agent last offseason he ultimately chose between the Titans and Patriots, who clearly wanted to pair him with Brady at that time.
Wide receiver A.J. Brown and tight end Jonnu Smith offer the kind of run-after-catch ability that will mesh well with Brady’s timing and accuracy. And Corey Davis, the fifth overall pick in 2017 who has yet to realize his potential, is the kind of elite prospect that Patriots never been in position to draft.
That group helped turn Ryan Tannehill into a Pro Bowler and a league leader. Imagine the possibilities with Brady throwing the passes.
If Brady really is looking to change teams, it is easy to believe he will like what he sees with Tennessee.