The Brady Question

Tom Brady posted a blank silhouette picture of himself stepping out of the gates at Gillette Stadium the day before Super Bowl 54, a preview for his promotional ad with Hulu that ended with, “I’m not going anywhere”. 

At the conclusion of the Super Bowl, New England has one month to negotiate with Tom Brady before he becomes a free agent on March 1. 

Should Tom Brady choose to play the 2020 season, he will be 43 years of age and playing out the last contract of a storied career. Despite a great amount of goodwill that Brady earned in his time in New England, the Patriots are not known to give aging players parting gift contracts. 

The decision for the Patriots to stay with Brady at quarterback is also harder than ever before now that he approaches his mid-40s.

The standard of play for Brady dipped in the second half of the 2019 season, but he finished the season with 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions in charge of an offense rife with injuries and moving parts at wide receiver and the offensive line. Pro Football Focus gave Brady an 80.4 total rating (out of 100) for the 2019 season.

The replacement route is also not clear-cut and there are few quality quarterbacks available in free agency. Former Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is not expected to return with Los Angeles at age 38, but replacing Brady with Rivers is arguably a lateral move at best.

Historically, the Patriots prepared for Brady’s decline by drafting quarterbacks, from Brian Hoyer to Jarrett Stidham last season to Jimmy Garoppolo most famously in 2014. This year’s draft class features a handful of promising quarterbacks such as Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa, but the commodity of the quarterback position makes the availability of these players difficult to predict.

When the Chiefs traded up ten slots in the 2017 NFL Draft to select Patrick Mahomes (now a Super Bowl champion), the league followed along. Four NFL teams traded up in the 2018 Draft to select quarterbacks. The trend expects to continue while the price of quarterbacks in a hard salary cap league steadily rises. Young and less-impressive quarterbacks such as Derek Carr and Dak Prescott command a market value of $25 million per year. In this sense, it is easier to see why Tom Brady and his camp would want to reap these benefits. 

ESPN reports that Tom Brady is open to playing “elsewhere” if the opportunity presents itself (if he is signed and traded by New England, for example). Brady has given no other indication that he will play elsewhere. The Patriots reportedly are open to offer Brady up to “$30 million” per year if that is the final asking price from Brady and agent Don Yee.

Should the Patriots lose out on Brady or let him enter free agency, the Oakland Raiders are one team clearly interested in signing Brady this off-season, according to ESPN. The Raiders signed Derek Carr to an expensive five-year, $125 million contract, but they would cut Carr and accept the cap hits if it means putting their franchise in the right direction.

Plan B that excludes Brady for the Patriots in 2020 is to draft a quarterback in this year’s draft, either by trading up or selecting one with one of their four draft picks in Rounds 1 to 3, sign a quarterback in free agency such as Phillip Rivers, or roll with second-year starter Jarrett Stidham to see how he develops.

This is not an advantageous position for New England given their laundry list of free agents this year aside from Brady. Important players include safety Devin McCourty, offensive guard Joe Thuney, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and receiver Phillip Dorsett. The Patriots have only $44 million in free cap space according to spotrac.com, so at least one of these players will not return next year barring additional trades.

Brady’s cap hit for last season was $22 million not including incentives, nearly half of the available cap space. There are rumors that Brady would like a few million dollars more. If New England would like to bring back Brady, a pay raise for the aging quarterback makes their spending situation difficult.

New England has a month to negotiate with Brady and their other free agents, and decide the future of the franchise. Stay tuned.

 

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