Hey, have you heard the latest Tom Brady free agency news?
ESPN reported that the Raiders will pursue Brady if he’s available. NFL Network said the Chargers are a “legitimate option.” CBS Sports reported that Brady will take a “methodical approach” to free agency. Brady appeared in a commercial on Super Bowl Sunday stating, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Brady and his wife supposedly were spotted checking out schools in Nashville, but that report was debunked. Brady was in Los Angeles last weekend, and “liked” an Instagram post announcing that Philip Rivers was leaving the Chargers.
NFL Network reported that the Patriots are “willing to extend themselves” to $30 million per year to re-sign Brady. A different NFL Network report stated that Brady actually isn’t demanding $30 million per year, he just wants better weapons.
Tracking the latest news, rumors, and updates surrounding Tom Brady’s free agency
WEEI’s Christian Fauria said Tuesday that the Patriots don’t want Brady even at $15 million per year. Michael Irvin told WEEI that “some very significant people” at the Super Bowl mentioned Brady to the Cowboys. Patriots broadcaster Scott Zolak tweeted “NYG” on Tuesday. And former Charger Shawn Merriman told TMZ that Cam Newton told him that he thinks Brady is signing with the Chargers.
Please, make it stop.
Brady won’t officially be a free agent for five more weeks, and the rumor mill already has spun out of control. The above reports/opinions/episodes all happened in the last 10 days.
While pundits and fans are talking nonstop about Brady and free agency, even Brady himself probably doesn’t know how this is going to shake out.
Because as we’ve seen time and again with the Patriots, deadlines matter. It doesn’t take long for a deal to come together — just the pressure of a ticking clock.
Related: The most important offseason updates on the Patriots calendar
Devin McCourty was about to sign on the dotted line with the Giants in 2015, until the Patriots came out of nowhere with a massive contract offer to keep him in town. Josh McDaniels had his bags all packed for Indianapolis two years ago, until Robert Kraft stepped in at the last minute and made him the proverbial “offer he couldn’t refuse” to stay with the Patriots.
Brady and his people can talk all they want now about the Raiders and Chargers, but Kraft with his ability to strike quickly is the major wild card. Unless Brady shuts the door completely on the Patriots, he doesn’t know how he is going to feel if/when Kraft makes that last-minute pitch.
Likewise, Kraft doesn’t know how he is going to react in five weeks when the clock is ticking. Kraft may be sticking to his guns now, but will he still stick to them in March when Brady is one John Hancock away from finishing his career as a Raider?
“Deadlines spur action” is an old business adage. But the deadline for Brady and the Patriots is still five weeks away: March 17 at 4 p.m. That’s the time at which his contract voids and the full $13.5 million in dead money hits the Patriots’ salary cap, which will make it much tougher (though not impossible) for them to bring Brady back.
Brady and the Patriots are playing a game of chicken, but they’re still in the second quarter. If there is real negotiating to be done, it won’t begin until they’re inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter (sometime around March 15).
Brady and the Patriots can posture and play it cool now, because there is plenty of time. But talks should get serious in the days leading up to March 17. The Patriots will want clarity on Brady’s situation before the full $13.5 million in dead money hits, and they will want to know which direction to take in free agency come March 18.
Kraft, Brady, and Bill Belichick could hammer out a contract over the course of one afternoon. That conversation needs to come before March 17, but doesn’t necessarily have to happen more than a few days before that. It took Kraft a few hours one morning to persuade McDaniels to stay.
Until then, it’s all negotiating. “Brady is going to take his free agent visits.” “The Patriots are prepared to let Brady hit free agency.” “Brady just wants better weapons around him.” “The Patriots only want him back at their price.” I’ll take reports like this a lot more seriously on March 10.
Unless one party changes its tune — Brady stating definitively that he’s going to return, for example, or the Patriots stating definitively that they are moving on — everything else is just speculation.
The season just ended, and most teams are still taking a little vacation. The 2020 offseason begins in earnest at the NFL Combine the last week of February, when every general manager, contract negotiator, and player agent descends upon Indianapolis for five days of tampering and market-gauging.
While Brady technically can’t have any communication with another team until March 16, he should have a pretty good idea by March 1 of how realistic it would be for him to sign with the Chargers, or Raiders, or perhaps a dark horse team (Panthers?). Then over the next 7-14 days, Kraft and Belichick will reach out, and the parties will decide their best course of action.
Brady’s future with the Patriots should gain clarity around March 15-16. If they don’t have a deal by then, it’s bad news for Patriots fans. Any deal would have to start with $13.5 million in dead cap money, which could be a significant roadblock. It also would mean Brady wants to visit other teams, which he can’t officially do until March 18 (technically, only his agent can speak to other teams before the 18th).
Despite the bombardment of reports and opinions the past two weeks, not much has changed on the Brady front since the season ended.
Brady is going to assess his options. Kraft hopes he plays for the Patriots or retires.
And that’s it.
No one right now knows how Brady or Kraft will react to the ticking deadline — including, probably, Brady and Kraft.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin