For the first time in his 20-year career, Tom Brady is poised to become a free agent.
On March 17 at 4 p.m., his contract with the Patriots will expire. On the last day of the 2019 league year, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.
Beginning March 16, teams are allowed to contact the agents of players who will become free agents upon the beginning of the new league year.
Here’s a very simplified version of what could happen:
- Brady re-signs with the Patriots before his contract expires. He avoids free agency and it allows the Patriots to spread the $20.25 million signing bonus he agreed to last August over three years (2019, 2020 and 2021), which helps with salary-cap ramifications.
- Brady re-signs with the Patriots after March 18. If the contract is allowed to expire, the $13.5 million Brady was to be paid would be accelerated to the 2020 season, meaning the Patriots would need to have that money included in his new contract.
- Brady signs a deal with a new team.
- Brady changes course and decides to retire.
We’re tracking each move and development between now and March 17, or when Brady signs a contract -- plus anything else you might need to know.
Sunday, Jan. 12 | 65 days until March 17
The Browns choose to hire Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator of the just-bounced Vikings, instead of Josh McDaniels for their open head-coaching position.
What does that mean for Tom Brady? Well, it means that Tom Brady may be more likely to return if he’s not in a position where he’ll have to form a new relationship with a new coordinator -- who might have a new offense. Ben Volin explains the details.
Saturday, Jan. 11 | 66 days
Two familiar names are one step closer to the Super Bowl after Saturday’s divisional games.
Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers are headed to the NFC Championship game after beating the Vikings, 27-10, at Levi’s Stadium.
Then, Mike Vrabel’s Titans stunned prohibitive favorite Baltimore in the late game, winning 28-12.
Friday, Jan. 10 | 67 days
Josh McDaniels spent more than seven hours interviewing for the Browns head coaching job. He and his wife Laura were flown to Cleveland by team owner Jimmy Haslam.
He was the final candidate to interview for the final NFL job open during this hiring cycle.
Meanwhile, Jim McBride took stock of the Patriots roster. Here’s a look at how it stood on Jan. 10.
Thursday, Jan. 9 | 68 days
Joe Judge is introduced as the new Giants coach. He divulges the only piece of advice Bill Belichick offered up: “He told me to just be yourself, and that’s all I know how to be.”
Meanwhile, Ben Volin plays a what-if game: What if Tom Brady leaves? Who would he play for?
Wednesday, Jan. 8 | 69 days
Brady posts on Instagram: “In both life and football, failure is inevitable. You can, however, learn from that failure, pick yourself up with great enthusiasm, and place yourself in the arena again. And that’s right where you will find me. Because I know I still have more to prove.”
What does that mean? It confirms his intentions to play football in 2020, just like he said after the Patriots’ loss to the Titans.
Tuesday, Jan. 7 | 70 days
Matt Rhule and Joe Judge both got new jobs. Josh McDaniels does not.
The Patriots offensive coordinator is scheduled to have interviews with the Panthers on Tuesday and the Giants on Wednesday. Instead, the Panthers chose to hire Rhule from Baylor; a few hours later, the word trickles out that the Giants are finalizing a deal with Patriots’ special-teams coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Judge.
With Mike McCarthy off to Dallas, that leaves one option for McDaniels: the Browns. McDaniels is scheduled to interview with them on Friday. Or, he could opt to sit this cycle out, and try for another head-coaching job next season.
Any way you look at it, the Patriots will once again need to do some rebuilding on the coaching staff. Judge, 38, has been with the team since 2012 and received wide-receiver duties this season to help prepare him to step into a head role.
“Joe could probably coach any position on the field,” Bill Belichick said about him last year. “He does an excellent job of teaching players. He thinks quickly, the game comes easily to him. He understands concepts and adjustments and fundamental techniques. That’s the mark of a good coach.”
Now, Judge will be tasked with helping to develop Daniel Jones as he enters his first season as full-time starter in New York.
Monday, Jan. 6 | 71 days
Robert Kraft, speaking to NBC Sports’s Peter King, knows exactly what he wants when it comes to Tom Brady’s future: “My hope and prayer is number one, he plays for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires.”
Kraft lauded his quarterback just a day after Bill Belichick said “nobody respects Tom more than I do” but also said that the process is “not a one-way street.”
What does all of this mean? Here’s a breakdown from Ben Volin, who reads between the lines.
Sunday, Jan. 5 | 72 days
Bill Belichick found himself in an unusual place on a Sunday morning in early January: behind the podium at Patriots HQ for his end-of-season press conference.
The Patriots head coach wouldn’t say much about the way the Patriots plan to approach Tom Brady’s free agency.
“Everybody’s situation on the team is different. There are not two that are exactly the same, but future is the future for all of them, just like it is for Tom and anybody else you want to bring up,’’ said Belichick. “Certainly, Tom’s an iconic figure in this organization and nobody respects Tom more than I do.’’
Saturday, Jan. 4 | 73 days
There was nothing a hype video could do to save the Patriots in 20-13 loss to the Titans that ended their season. It was the first time the Patriots had to play in the wild-card round since 2009.
After the game, Tom Brady addressed the biggest question in his postgame press conference: How likely is he to retire? “I would say it’s pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely.”
There you have it.
But if he continues to play, will it be with the Patriots?
“I don’t know what the future looks like,” Brady said Saturday night. “I’m not going to predict it.”