Patriots reportedly willing to make Tom Brady one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Tom Brady and the Patriots aren't in Super Bowl LIV, but people across the league are still talking about them. So it's no surprise that top NFL insider Ian Rapoport dropped an interesting detail about Brady and his football future on Super Bowl Sunday.

Appearing on the NFL Network ahead of the big game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, Rapoport got one of his biggest reports from Foxborough. He says the Patriots are a "legitimate and real option" for Brady, and also that the team is "willing to pay him in excess of $30 million, if that is in fact what it's going to take" in order for Brady to return.

The $30 million number is significant, because Brady was already on the books for a $30 million salary and $36.75 million cap hit in 2020, which are now set to void if he becomes a free agent. Are the Patriots now willing to essentially un-void the contract and make Brady one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL?

According to Miguel Benzan's 2020 cap page at the Boston Sports Journal, if you count Brady's number toward 2020, the Patriots are left with just over $21 million in cap space. That's with key pieces like Devin McCourty, Joe Thuney, and Kyle Van Noy also headed for the open market. In the case of Thuney and Van Noy, their markets should be large.

Rapoport also says Brady is really going to want a "commitment from [the Patriots] that they will specifically spend on weapons."

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The Super Bowl LIV @NFLGameDay Notebook with @MikeGarafolo: -- The #Patriots are willing to pay Tom Brady in excess of $30M if that's what's required to keep him. -- The #Chargers among teams expected to make a push. -- New England's fall back options include trading for a QB. https://t.co/G4dxkUQmTh

Technically they did spend $10 million in guaranteed money on wide receiver Antonio Brown, but that obviously turned out to be the wrong player to specifically spend on last season. Ideally, for the sake of Brady and the offense, they spend in that range again to bring in a premium pass-catcher. Receiver Amari Cooper could be too expensive for the Pats on the open market, but there's a number of tight ends who are proven pass-catchers headed for free agency such as Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper, and Eric Ebron. As illustrated by their other key free agents above, signing a premium pass-catcher will likely require sacrifices.

On NFL.com, Rapoport reported that Brady's mysterious photo posted to his Twitter and Instagram pages was actually a preview for a Super Bowl commercial featuring him. So if it was a mere marketing ploy, that certainly worked. Brady's viral photo became the biggest topic in sports after it was posted.

Rapoport also mentions the Los Angeles Chargers as a potential destination for Brady in free agency. He says that L.A. would also be able to accommodate Brady with a new TB12 facility, which is very important to both his fitness and football preparation as well as promoting his personal brand.

The Patriots wanted their message out there - if not to Brady, certainly to other teams around the league. If Brady made $30 million in salary and bonuses in 2020, he'd be the fifth-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL (per Spotrac). The tough part, however, is managing the $13.5 million dead cap number that would trigger if Brady becomes a free agent. Re-signing Brady after absorbing that number would become virtually impossible if it truly takes paying him another $30 million. It's also possible that Brady wants other teams to know they'll have to seriously pay up to pry him from New England.

As long as the Patriots can revamp the offense for 2020, paying over $30 million for Brady is a better idea than paying $13.5 million to watch him go out the door and hoping for the best with Jarrett Stidham in year two. Either way it's going to get much trickier if Brady does indeed hit the market.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].