By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sources may say he’s leaving, but common sense tells me Tom Brady will re-sign in New England.
That’s not to say what people are reporting from their various sources isn’t true. More on that in a bit. But given the information presented to us so far, 2+2 tells me Brady will be under center when the Patriots open the 2020 season.
So many people have been quick to try and will Brady out of New England. Some of those same people seem to forget that for Brady to leave, he has to go somewhere. He’s not just going to say “Eff you Bill! Eff you New England! I’m out of here!” and figure out the rest later. Everything in his history tells us that’s not how he operates. What Brady leaving really means is that there is an opportunity out there better for him than the one in Foxborough.
Does that opportunity exist? Maybe. Keep in mind that we’re not just talking about teams where Brady would flourish, but mutual interest. For instance, obviously he would tear things up on the Chiefs, but that isn’t happening.
What we’re looking for here are teams that have a cache of offensive talent but no quarterback. They also have to have a competent coaching staff and the assets to make more improvements around Brady. Based on the current NFL landscape, two teams logically fit that bill. Before we get to them, let’s rule out one popular landing spot that has some logical flaws.
The Red Herring
The Las Vegas Raiders were one of the first teams linked to Brady, and have been at the center of the conversation since this nonsense began. Why? Because Brady bought a house there, and because he was seen chatting with Mark Davis at a fight.
When it comes down to actual football though, does the pairing make sense? A key reason cited for Brady’s displeasure in New England is the lack of weapons surrounding him on offense. Taking a look at Vegas’ current roster, it shouldn’t blow him away compared to what he is leaving. Are Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams, who Brady would have to start from scratch working with, a more attractive duo than Julian Edelman and James White? As impressive as Waller was at times last year, Brady’s history and chemistry with Edelman and White should put them over the top from an X’s and O’s point of view.
Now you may be thinking ‘but the Raiders can make moves over the spring to improve their roster’. While yes, they have the 12th pick in this year’s draft and over $50 million in cap space, it’s not that simple.
First, that cap space number could look vastly different if Brady signs. The deal could end up decreasing Vegas’ cap number by $15-20 million. It could potentially be even more depending on what happens with Derek Carr, who the Raiders would have to figure out how to part with.
Any other moves to improve the roster would likely have to come after Brady signs, but would he trust the Raiders enough to make the right decisions once he’s on-board? No doubt he’ll do his due diligence, which should turn up a history of mismanagement and incompetence. This is a team that was locked out of the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes last year because they were too cash poor to sign him. It’s not that they lacked the cap space, but actual cash on hand.
On top of all of that, the Raiders are a notoriously cheap organization, who regularly rank among the bottom of the league in spending on things like scouting, training staff, and amenities. There’s certainly no Air Davis. What are the facilities at the new Vegas stadium like? Are they enough to lure Brady away from having his TB12 center right around the corner?
Keeping all of that in mind, why have the Raiders been able to remain in the conversation? That’s where we have to bring the ‘sources’ back in. Vegas does appear a logical choice on the surface, and that’s where they’re helpful to Brady and his camp. They may be allowing the Raiders to hang around, bumping them to the media as a bargaining chip.
That’s the problem with going ride-or-die with the sourced information. While I do believe that most of what’s being reported has been told to those reporting it, I’m not convinced it’s all true. At the end of the day, these sources are trying to do what’s best for them and who they’re professionally or personally linked to, not those who they’re passing information to. In that lens, the Raiders are more likely a leverage point than a legitimate landing spot.
An Old Friend
With that out of the way, let’s turn our focus to the two teams outside of New England who could make a legitimate run at Brady, starting with the Tennessee Titans.
There’s a number of solid draws for Brady in Nashville, the key being his longstanding friendship with former Patriots linebacker and current Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. Given the time Vrabel spent in New England, he’s familiar with the only home Brady’s known in his 20-year career and would be adept to duplicate the organizational nuances Brady might like about New England. Plus, given their relationship, Vrabel may be more likely that other coaches to give Brady a say on team building and front office decisions.
The draw in Tennessee goes beyond Vrabel too. The Titans top three receivers from last year are all under contract in 2020 in 2017 fifth-overall pick Corey Davis, near-2019 Rookie of the Year A.J. Brown, and almost-Patriot signee Adam Humphries. Those three are matched with a pair of versatile tight ends in three-time Pro Bowler Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith, who is coming off of a career year.
On top of all of their weapons, Tennessee boasted the eight-ranked offensive line in the league according to PFF, and will return four of their five starters.
With Brady in place, the Titans could likely convince last year’s breakout star Derrick Henry to come back, replicating the 2019 offense that reached the AFC Championship game, but with a six-time Super Bowl winner under center.
In doing so, Tennessee’s front office would have to willingly move on from a 31-year-old quarterback who rescued their season from the brink of despair last year. Ryan Tannehill wasn’t a world-beater last year, but he proved to be one of the more reliable quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions in his 12 games. Perhaps more impressively, he completed over 70 percent of his passes in just his first year in the Titans system.
Would the Titans pass up getting a chance to see what Tannehill can do with a full offseason and training camp as their QB1 under his belt for one, maybe two seasons of a guy 11 years his senior and coming off of a somewhat serious elbow injury? Possibly. Brady is the ultimate example of a win-now option, and if his elbow is fully healed then his football IQ and experience on the big stage makes the Titans instant contenders. But if Tennessee can sign Tannehill to a long-term deal and he continues to build on what was a successful 2019 campaign, given the construction of the rest of their roster they could have an offensive core in place that will still be there after Tom Brady retires.
The other logical option to me, believe it or not, is the San Francisco 49ers. They simply have something no other franchise can offer Brady: A chance to play for his hometown team.
While that may seem sappy, it’s a powerful draw that shouldn’t be dismissed. Brady has checked off just about every accomplishment a player could dream of over the course of his NFL career. The one thing he’s never done is wear the red and gold he rooted for growing up in the Bay Area.
That roster is absolutely loaded, and most of the key pieces from last year’s Super Bowl run are still under contract for 2020. If they can bring back Emmanuel Sanders or a similar receiver (Antonio Brown?), they have a real chance to get back to the big game regardless of who is under center.
Winning a Super Bowl for his home town team would be the most fitting non-New England end to Brady’s storied career. All it would take for that to happen is the Niners opting out of the final three years of Jimmy Garoppolo’s mega-deal he signed in 2018.
While Garoppolo isn’t towards the top of the list of reasons the Niners made it to the Super Bowl in 2019, he proved to be a capable operator of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Would John Lynch forego keeping him around longer-term to make another run while many key players, specifically on defense, are still on affordable rookie contracts. Like with the Titans, it comes down to how small the Niners feel their championship window is.
The Peyton Manning Effect
What makes the Brady situation so hard to project is there is nearly no precedent. The closest we have is when Peyton Manning hit free agency during the 2012 offseason.
The Broncos moved on from their young, developing quarterback (although to be fair, it was Tim Tebow) in order to bring in Manning and make an immediate run. Did it pay off?
Manning’s first year in Denver was impressive given he was recovering from neck surgery. It ended with a first-team All-Pro nod but an exit in the divisional round of the playoffs.
With a year under his belt, Manning took over the league in 2013, breaking many notable single-season passing records. The Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl but were demolished by the Legion of Boom Seahawks.
Manning’s play dropped off steeply after that. In his final season in 2015, he was benched halfway through the year for Brock Osweiler. While Manning would eventually make it back to the starting lineup for Denver’s Super Bowl winning run, it was the defense that carried the team. Although technically the Broncos got a Super Bowl out of the Manning signing, he was a shell of himself by the time they finally won, and likely could have been replaced without changing the ultimate result of the season.
Whether it was because of Manning or not, the Broncos went into win-now mode and won. However, it’s important to look at the full context. Win-now sounds easy and fun on paper, but the other shoe drops eventually (see: Red Sox, Boston). What happened to the Broncos after Manning left? Nothing good.
Denver hasn’t been back to the playoffs since winning Manning’s final game in 2015. They’re 27-37 in that span. They’ve struggled to find a capable replacement for Manning, going through a quarterback carousel containing the likes of Osweiler, Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, and even for a brief moment Mark Sanchez. In doing so, they wasted valuable years of an elite defense. The team drafted Drew Lock in 2019, and while there is promise there, the rest of the roster they had built to contend has either moved on or fallen victim to father time.
Teams looking to abandon their promising developmental projects at quarterback should look at what the Broncos have been since 2013 and decide if that’s the path they want to take. Keep in mind that no team that would reasonably be pursuing Brady has the weapons to offer him that Denver did for Manning in 2013. It’s also worth noting that Brady (42) is seven years older than Manning (35) was when he hit the open market. As short as Manning’s window was with the Broncos, Brady’s might be shorter.
Back To New England
Time for me to put my money where my mouth is. I started off by saying Brady leaving means there is a better option elsewhere, so conversely Brady if I think Brady is staying I have to believe New England is the best spot for him. Is that the case?
Yes. It’s by default, but yes. Assuming the offers from Tennessee and San Francisco are real and remain on the table, they are tempting. But one thing Brady has cited as a reason for his success throughout his career is familiarity. He’s only going to find that in New England.
Maybe if Danny Amendola was still available, or if Julian Edelman was hitting the market with him it would be another story. That’s not the case though. Tennessee does have Dion Lewis, and perhaps the Niners could make a run at Phillip Dorsett in free agency, but there’s no way to duplicate the only system he’s known for 20 years. Especially without Edelman, who may be the Patriots trump card in all of this.
The other reality is, the Titans and Niners don’t need Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was good enough to get the Niners to the Super Bowl last year. Ryan Tannehill came within a game despite not becoming the starter until late October.
New England doesn’t have that kind of fallback plan. It doesn’t matter what former Sacramento Mountain Lions quarterback Jordan Palmer has to say, the reality is Jarrett Stidham is still untested and unproven at the NFL level. Meanwhile those who claim to believe the likes of Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, or Jameis Winston could come close to replicating Brady’s success in the Patriots hyper-complex offense are either grasping at straws, willingly ignorant, or attempting to push a narrative for their own personal gain.
Pending something beyond drastic, the Patriots aren’t in a position to dutifully replace Brady this offseason. That’s why the win-now option is more attractive to them then others. They’re likely heading for a major rebuild in the next five years one way or the other, so why not try to capitalize on the last few years of the Dynasty 2.0 core? There will be a time where the Case Keenum’s of the league make sense for the Patriots, but they shouldn’t rush to that point.
Determined To Leave
‘But Brady hates it in Foxborough,’ those trying to stir the pot will say. ‘He doesn’t want to play for Bill anymore. He doesn’t want to deal with the front office being cheap.’
‘It’s not important where he’s going, he just wants to leave.’
Ok, but it’s not that simple. Given the landscape of the NFL, he may not have anywhere else to go. So if he’s that determined to bail, then you’re talking about retirement. If he leaves just for the sake of leaving, that’s ending his career.
For those so convinced Brady has already punched his one-way ticket out of New England without picking a destination, you have to answer this question. IF Brady hates it in New England that much, wouldn’t he have retired years ago?
Good luck figuring that one out.
Where That Leaves Things
It may not be all sunshine and rainbows between Brady’s camp and the Patriots right now. That’s not how negotiations work. At the end of the day though, these are two sides that have a history of taking a logical approach to problem solving. The logical approach here is for Tom Brady to come back to New England, at least for another year after which both sides can reassess their options.
It may not be either side’s first choice. And it could end up turning into a mess if Brady’s elbow isn’t fully healed or if the Patriots can’t pull off a major overhaul of their offensive skill positions. Just like it’s not as simple as saying ‘Brady is as good as gone,’ it’s not as simple to definitively have him back in New England either.
Here’s where it is simple. The Patriots need a quarterback. Tom Brady needs an employer. Both sides and their ‘sources’ can talk a big game about moving on all they want, but when last call hits on March 18, they’re going to look around and realize the rest of the bar has cleared out. They’ll be left with only each other. If it’s go home together or go home alone, does anybody really think they’ll pick alone?