New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 08: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with owner Robert Kraft before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Tom Brady is on track to become an unrestricted free agent, but the Patriots could still prevent that if they agree to a new contract before then. Now it sounds like Brady will indeed hit the open market – and owner Robert Kraft may prefer it that way.

That’s how NFL insider Ian Rapoport explained it in a new appearance on the NFL Network on Monday. He posited that Kraft feels it would benefit everyone involved the most if Brady first explored the open market. Then, like other recent veteran free agents have done in New England, Brady can come back to Kraft and Bill Belichick and work out a new deal after he knows what’s out there. Belichick may be happy to go through that process, as evidenced by how he’s handled free agents in the past. And Belichick will also have an opportunity to see what his options are at QB.

In other words, it may be inevitable that Brady stays put.

“In the end, after all this, after going through everything, it will mean that it’s basically meant to be, and that it’s the best thing for all sides [to let Brady test free agency],” Rapoport says in the video below. “Kraft wanted them to get apart, to see what’s out there, and try to come together in the middle. And the hope is, if that works out for 2020, that everyone will be happy they went through the process.”

This sounds like Kraft’s way of conceding that he and Belichick are not going to get Brady to bite on a new contract offer before he becomes a free agent. It’s also a gamble that the two will ultimately decide they’re best off continuing their partnership.

But while an agreement between the three sides could be “meant to be”, this also means that Brady will be on the books for a $13.5 million cap hit in 2020 regardless of whether he signs or not. So, logically speaking, if Brady decides that the Patriots are still the best option for him, then he might inevitably agree to a deal that would make the $13.5 million dead cap hit palatable. Meaning, another potential hometown discount or perhaps even a pay cut.

It’s hard to believe that Kraft truly preferred it this way. “Actually I wanted the GOAT to become a free agent” is a hell of a spin to put on the situation. Ultimately you’d think Kraft would have rather locked Brady in before he had the chance to explore new opportunities. Then again, Kraft may have talked to enough check-writers around the league to know that no one is going to totally price him out on the 42-year-old.

A new Brady deal before March 18 is apparently not happening, no matter what. So Kraft has ostensibly moved on to the next-best option, which is to let it all play out and hit the negotiating table one more time. At least the Patriots’ “Big 3” seem to be on the same page on their approach. What happens once Brady sits down with Kraft and Belichick is anyone’s guess.

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.