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Ben Volin | On Football

Diving deeper into the latest Tom Brady free agency chatter

There have been a lot of recent reports, some suggesting that he’s leaving, some that he’s staying. Let’s examine them.

Saying goodbye to Tom Brady or welcoming him back -- which way will it go?
Saying goodbye to Tom Brady or welcoming him back -- which way will it go?Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

This was not an easy week for Patriots fans who want Tom Brady to return to New England for next season.

Brady had a phone call with Bill Belichick, but it reportedly didn’t go well. Brady did a FaceTime chat with Titans coach Mike Vrabel in front of thousands of people at a Syracuse basketball game. One ESPN report pegged as many as eight teams as being interested in Brady. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Thursday that Brady and the Patriots are “not any closer to a contract agreement” and that “I think we can all sense what way this is tracking.”

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But some people believe last week’s events point even more to Brady returning to the Patriots. Let’s take a look at some of the recent developments:

▪ There certainly has been a lot of noise about Brady, and it all seems to be coming from his camp: the report that eight teams are interested; the buzz that the 49ers may be interested in swapping Jimmy Garoppolo for Brady; the reports Wednesday that the Brady-Belichick phone call didn’t go well (I’m sure Belichick loved the fact that the phone call got leaked).

While the reports point to Brady being frustrated and ultimately leaving, both the NFL Network and Sports Illustrated reported that Brady’s market may not be as robust as he had hoped. And that’s the side I’m leaning toward right now. One league source told me that Brady’s only realistic option outside of the Patriots right now is the Chargers, and the Los Angeles Times threw some cold water on them, pointing out that owner Dean Spanos has never been able to reel in the big fish.

Tampa Bay seems like an intriguing spot, but one general manager told The Athletic that the Bucs really want Teddy Bridgewater, and that makes a lot of sense. Bridgewater is 15 years younger than Brady, went 5-0 as Drew Brees’s fill-in last season, and had a fantastic game against the Bucs, throwing for 314 yards and four touchdowns.

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Bridgewater also threw just two interceptions in 196 pass attempts in 2019, which is music to the Bucs’ ears after Jameis Winston threw 30 picks last year.

The Raiders? Maybe, but Mark Davis is not exactly a major player among NFL owners, and Las Vegas is a small market. They also are reportedly interested in signing Marcus Mariota to serve as Derek Carr’s backup.

The Titans? Maybe. But one league source close to Titans coaches said, “They’re not going to do Ryan Tannehill like that," after Tannehill helped lead the Titans to their best season in 17 years. Tannehill also recently switched agents, signing with the same one — Brian Ayrault of Creative Artists Agency — who represents Titans GM Jon Robinson.

As much as Brady is loved and revered in New England, we have to consider that for the rest of the country, he’s a 42-year-old quarterback who isn’t a running threat, is coming off a disappointing season, and has never played in another offensive system.

All it takes is one team to be interested in Brady to drive up the price and potentially persuade him to leave New England. But there is certainly some question about how badly most of these teams want Brady — as well as some question about whether Brady would really want to play for someone like the Titans, Chargers, or Raiders, who don’t have the deepest pockets.

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▪ The Vrabel FaceTime incident from last weekend was so brazen that I think it actually decreases the chances of Brady going to Tennessee. Vrabel said Friday on a Nashville radio show that he initiated the call with Brady and Julian Edelman to give them some good-natured ribbing — because they are longtime friends, not because Vrabel is trying to recruit Brady.

If the Titans were going to get Brady, wouldn’t they be a bit more coy about it? The Patriots could race to Roger Goodell’s office with this video the minute Brady signs with Tennessee and charge them with tampering.

Don’t forget that Vrabel’s tenure in New England as a player didn’t end well, and I wonder whether he’s just having a little fun trying to make Robert Kraft and Belichick sweat this out.

▪ There were some positive developments on the Brady-returning-to-New-England side. UFC president Dana White said Thursday on WEEI that “Mr. Kraft wants Tom Brady to be with the Patriots so bad. I just talked to him today and Mr. Kraft wants Brady back.”

Kraft has always been the wild card in this. If he truly wants Brady back, then he has the power to get it done. It seems as though Brady just wants a little appreciation and a two-year commitment, and Kraft can make both happen.

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▪ White also made a little news this past week when he hosted an Instagram chat with Brady. The quarterback didn’t say much about his free agency decision, but he did mention that he was going on vacation for “the next 10-12 days,” which means he going on vacation pretty much right up until the March 18 deadline, when he becomes a free agent.

Is Brady cutting off communication with the Patriots, or at least threatening to? Obviously he has a cellphone and can be reached, but telling the world he’s going on vacation with his family sends the message: “Don’t call me, I’m on personal time.”

▪ The uncertainly surrounding the collective bargaining agreement has complicated contract negotiations for all players, not just Brady. Without a new CBA, teams are hamstrung as to the different ways they can structure a contract and push money around.

“It’s a big difference-maker if it does get passed for teams in regards to their flexibility in their cap for this year,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who also is negotiating a new contract. “I think everybody hopes that it does pass.”

The CBA uncertainty was one reason the Patriots hadn’t talked specifics with Brady as of the NFL Combine. But it’s definitely time now, with less than two weeks to go until free agency.

Even if we won’t know for another week whether the proposed CBA will pass, the teams have the details now, and they can draw up contract terms based on two different contingencies.

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The CBA vote among the players will last until 11:59 p.m. on March 12, but a league source said the NFL is not going to push back the franchise tag window (which ends at 4 p.m. March 12) nor the start of the league year (4 p.m. March 18). If the Patriots don’t sign Brady by March 18, it would decrease the odds of him returning to New England because of the $13.5 million in dead money that will hit their salary cap.

▪ One interesting nugget a league source told me: Belichick is cognizant of the fact that many people will blame him if Brady leaves, and he doesn’t want to be known as the guy that ran Brady out of town. As much as Belichick doesn’t seem to care about outside perception, most people will blame him for driving Brady away. And it would put a lot of heat on Belichick if Brady plays well elsewhere, or if the Patriots don’t play well without Brady (especially because the Patriots don’t have a great succession plan at quarterback).


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.