Mazz: Brady, Pats playing a high-stakes game of chicken

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Not to go dropping Shakespeare on you, but beware the Ides of March. Because between now and then, what Tom Brady and the Patriots are going to do is play a high-stakes game of chicken.

In case you missed it, NFL information guru Adam Schefter appeared on ESPN’s “Get Up” yesterday and offered an update of sorts on Brady’s impending situation with the Patriots. The quarterback has the right to become an unrestricted free agent on March 18, which has already led to posturing from both sides, the latest of which is this:

“I don’t believe the Patriots are waiting until March 16 to get an answer from Tom Brady,” Schefter said. “They’re not going to let him go to free agency, sign with Team X, and then on March 20, say ‘Well, what do we do at QB now?’ That’s not the way they operate.”

Do you believe that?

Or is this just posturing?

Let’s back up here for a second. Because the Patriots cannot use the franchise tag on Brady, his contract is set to expire on March 18 at 4 p.m. But NFL rules being what they are, teams can begin contacting prospective free agents on March 16, beginning a three-day window that is generally known as the “legal” tampering period. If you’ve ever followed NFL free agency, you know that many of the best players are already signed, sealed and delivered by the time the starting gun goes off on March 18.

Dec 23, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick head out onto the field to shake hands with the Buffalo Bills after their 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
Dec 23, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick head out onto the field to shake hands with the Buffalo Bills after their 24-12 win at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

So if we already know all this, why is Schefter’s report important? Because the Patriots are drawing the proverbial line in the sand, that’s why. Tom Brady isn’t the only one who can effectively go to market on March 16 – the Patriots can go to market, too. And they’re basically threatening Brady with a deadline that says, “If you’re intent on talking to others, we’re moving on.”

That’s now twice that the Patriots are daring their quarterback. The first time, they agreed to forfeit their right to use the franchise tag. Now they’re daring him to go free agency. The message? We don’t think you have the heart to leave, Tom.

A bluff? Maybe. But if Bill Belichick is running this negotiation – and he may or may not be – it’s doubtful. Say what you want about Belichick, but he’s not really a bluffer. He got tired of Rob Gronkowski’s act a long time ago and had him traded a couple of years ago before Gronk and/or Robert Kraft blew up the deal. Gronk then subsequently strung the Pats along last spring and the team whiffed in finding any sort of replacement, something Schefter cited in Thursday’s report on Brady.

Obviously, there’s a lot of public posturing that takes place in any negotiation and this one is no different. Brady has already allowed himself to be photographed talking to Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose team is now officially in Las Vegas. It’s hardly a coincidence that this bit of news from the Patriots side has come out less than a week later. Brady and the Pats are playing tennis in the public – if not in private.

One thing to note about the Patriots stance: by telling the world (through Schefter) that they intend to have an answer from Brady before March 16, they’re also effectively telling the world that Jarrett Stidham is not ready to take over in 2020. If he were, why would the Patriots need an answer before free agency? They can find a backup at anytime. Heck, they could draft one.

And so, with a little more than seven weeks to go before the start of NFL free agency … here … we … go. Tom is flirting with prospective suitors. The Patriots are setting a deadline. And the team has now issued what amounts to a double-dare.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.