Can we all be honest with each other for just a second? OK, good.
Nobody -- that includes the parties involved – seems to have any idea how exactly Tom Brady’s future is going to play out.
Return to the Patriots for a 21st season? Retire? Don another NFL uninform? Gasp, all may remain very real possibilities.
In fact, it’s as if with every passing day, informed comment and social media posting, we can all talk ourselves into a different TB12 career trajectory. Like freshman year poetry class, it’s all up to interpretation.
After the negotiated “extension” last summer that voided after the 2019 season and removed the Patriots’ ability to use the franchise tag on the G.O.A.T. it felt like moving on to another team was a very real possibility. At least that was a working theory throughout the season. The L.A. Chargers, headed into a costly new PSL-driven stadium, were a feasible landing spot for Brady and his TB12 empire.
Then, in the immediacy of the dead-stop end of the season at the hands of the Titans on Wild Card Weekend, Brady’s tone and word choice appeared to open the door for retirement even as he was downplaying the option. It was “hopefully unlikely” he’d be walking away from the game.
Combine that strange word choice – Did that mean he had to have another family negotiation with wife Gisele Bundchen? Or was it a realization that if the Patriots didn’t want him back he would actually have to seek employment elsewhere as the rubber got closer to the free agent road? Or something else altogether? – with his comments a few moments later to NBC’s Peter King, and Brady was audibly struggling with the idea of moving on.
“I think I’m just…I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are,” Brady said of free agency freedom for the first time in two decades of professional football. “If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Then came Brady’s return from a few days of post-season seclusion with an Instagram post directed at fans that concluded, theoretically, with an obvious (if you read it that way) declaration that even coming off a down season and with nothing but questions on the horizon the future Hall of Fame quarterback is still focused on what he has left to prove. (Nothing, by the way, but that’s a different column for a different day of Brady Watch!)
“In both life and football, failure is inevitable. You don’t always win. You can, however, learn from that failure, pick yourself up with great enthusiasm, and place yourself in the arena again.And that’s right where you will find me. Because I know I still have more to prove,” Brady fed his hungry social-media followers and really the entire football-watching world.
For whatever it’s worth, Gisele liked and commented on the posting. A heart emoji, or three, say it all!
Oh, it’s back on! How can you read that any other way?
So, that’s where we stand just four days into what could be two-plus months of Brady Watch 2020.
Different people read the tea leaves of the last six months differently. And strong arguments can be made, citing comments and intel, for each of Brady’s three options. Did you know he put his Boston-area house up for sale?
Let’s be honest once again, all three parties involved – Brady, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and New England football boss Bill Belichick – continue to play a game of legacy-altering chicken. One that in some ways is playing out before us all in the media.
Kraft told King, “It was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year. You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to nine Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he’s part of my family. Blood family. Anyone who’s done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years. And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”
Interpretation? Don’t blame me if he leaves.
The following morning, less than 12 hours after Tennessee dashed any dreams of another unlikely Super Bowl run, Belichick declared in his season-ending press conference that it wasn’t the time to talk about Brady’s future and that the coach was “not prepared” to do so.
“Those are collective decisions that are not made by one person. They’re made collectively, and there’s a lot of time, thought, effort and communication that goes into that,” Belichick said.
Interpretation? Don’t blame me if he leaves.
Even supposed informed observers, friends and former teammates are spewing all kinds of differing opinions regarding Brady’s future all over talk radio and the internet.
NFL Network analyst and former Patriot Willie McGinest says there will be no more “hometown discount.”
ESPN analyst and former Patriot Tedy Bruschi “can see” Brady moving on to another team, but also thinks that after “leverage season” plays out that “cooler heads will prevail” for a return of the guy that even the tight-lipped Belichick had to admit was an “iconic figure” in New England.
Whether they want to admit it or not, no one knows what’s going to happen with Brady’s future and his career in New England.
TB12 probably knows what he wants. And if that includes a lucrative, multi-year deal he probably won’t get it.
Belichick probably knows what he wants. That’s probably a Brady return at a very reasonable, one-year contract or a ripping off of the Band-Aid to start fresh. Neither route will be easy.
And Kraft is stuck in the middle between his Hall of Fame coach and Hall of Fame quarterback, one who’s shown no signs of slowing down trying to keep the dynasty chugging along and one who is both the face of his franchise and “blood family.”
How will this now-tumultuous football love triangle play on or play out?
No one knows.
But stay tuned, just like everyone else will be.
Because every passing day brings a new angle to the biggest story in sports right now, maybe the biggest story in sports history.