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Sport Where will Tom Brady play in 2020? Breaking down QB's free-agent options to stay, retire or leave Patriots

01:35  07 january  2020
01:35  07 january  2020 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Given Tom Brady's age and contract situation, his parting ways with the Patriots after this season, thus ending the greatest dynasty ever seen in American sports, must be considered a possibility. The inevitability that is the quarterback's retirement and/or departure from the franchise might not come in 2020, but if it does, the ripple effects will extend far beyond New England.

Brady, 42 and having just finished his 20th NFL season, has said he hopes to play until he is 45. But the 2020 season on the two-year, $70 million contract extension Brady signed last summer is set to void, and there's a provision in the deal that does not allow New England to place a tag on him.

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That means Brady — assuming he and the Patriots don't agree to another extension before March 18 — will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his Hall of Fame career.

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As Sporting News contributor and OverTheCap.com founder Jason Fitzgerald writes, the 2020 and 2021 seasons on Brady's contract were included as void years for salary-cap purposes. While Brady's current contract raised his 2019 salary by $8 million and earned him $20.25 million in signing bonus, it saved the Patriots $5.5 million in salary cap space for the year.

Via OverTheCap, below is a look at Brady's contract.

YearAgeBase salaryProrated bonusPer-game roster bonusGuaranteed salaryCap numberCap percentageDead money (cut or traded)Cap savings (cut or traded)
201942$1,750,000$18,750,000$1,000,000$1,750,000$21,500,00011.4--
202043$0$6,750,000$0$0$6,750,0003.4$13,500,000$6,750,000
202144$0$6,750,000$0$0$6,750,000-$6,750,000,$0

Brady leaving New England prematurely and playing elsewhere is virtually unfathomable, even though other NFL legends closed their careers by doing just that. But Brady is coming off a season in which he finished 16th in QBR and 19th in passer rating. Though team owner Robert Kraft surely would have a say in such a monumental decision, Brady does play for a coach/general manager in Bill Belichick who has proven willing to make difficult, unpopular roster moves.

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So in the wake of the Patriots' loss to the Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs, there are three options for Brady. He can sign another extension with New England, he can simply retire, or he can hit free agency and, potentially, sign a new contract with a new team.

We expand on those options below.

Will Tom Brady stay with the Patriots?

Despite the lack of a verbal commitment from either side, instead a series of empty "we will see" quotes typical of the Patriot Way that is saying nothing of substance, Brady re-signing with New England is the most likely scenario.

The obvious reason is the Patriots currently have no other viable options at the position, with Cody Kessler and Jarrett Stidham being the other QBs on the roster in the wake of the Jimmy Garoppolo trade in 2017. New England could sign a QB from a solid group of soon-to-be free agents, but none of the passers who realistically could become available are upgrades over Brady.

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Likewise, the Patriots could (and probably will) draft a QB in 2020, but they likely would want that player to sit and learn behind Brady for at least a season.

The aforementioned Garoppolo trade is noteworthy because it highlights another reason Brady is not likely to leave New England: Kraft's apparent reluctance to let him go. Reports indicated Belichick was willing to part with Brady sooner rather than later, thus keeping Garoppolo as the heir-apparent. Kraft reportedly preferred the opposite, and Garoppolo was dealt to San Francisco for just a second-round draft pick.

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Plus, New England surely recognizes Brady's apparent decline was not the lone reason its offense dipped in 2019. The Patriots struggled to establish a dominant running game, which in turn would have taken pressure off a passing attack that was depleted by injuries.

There also is a financial incentive for the Patriots to re-sign Brady. If they don't, he will cost them $13.5 million in dead cap charges for 2020, plus another $6.75 million for 2021.

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As for how Brady's future is being viewed inside the organization, ESPN's Mike Reiss reported this week "it truly is a wait and see type of situation," adding that Brady and the Patriots have not discussed his contract since his extension was signed in August.

Asked after the Patriots' playoff loss whether he'll return to New England in 2020, Brady admitted his future is unclear.

Will Tom Brady retire?

This is an unlikely scenario given Brady's repeated claim that he wants to play until he is 45. If he remains set on achieving that goal, it will take him into at least the 2022 NFL season — three more campaigns.

Further, Brady after the playoff loss said his retirement in 2020 is "unlikely," though he did not commit to a return.

This doesn't mean a Brady retirement in 2020 is not sensible. As we wrote before Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams in last season's Super Bowl to earn their sixth championship, that win had no bearing on Brady's status as the best of all time. In the minds of the vast majority, that debate ended long ago. His retirement would not be met with debate. Only admiration. Brady has nothing left to prove.

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A man who's abnormally healthy after having played 20 NFL seasons would be wise to maintain said abnormal health; health that, in a sport like football and in a league like the NFL, is never guaranteed.

But Brady, an unapologetic competitor who has said he values additional mental experience in the NFL as it relates to his declining physical abilities, must be taken seriously when he says he wants to keep this going.

Tom Brady's 2020 free-agency options

Alright, let's say the unthinkable happens, and Brady hits the open market. He is one of a few notable veteran passers — Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning are others — whose deals are set to expire in 2020. Brady's availability obviously would be interesting to a handful of teams.

This isn't just about who would be interested in a 43-year-old Brady, though; it's about who a 43-year-old Brady would be interested in, as well. He likely would aim for team with which he could contend for a Super Bowl under a coaching staff he trusts.

Below are some potential free-agency landing places for the greatest quarterback of all time.

  • Los Angeles Chargers

This one's based on an actual report. "The Chargers would have a unique appeal to Brady on multiple levels," sources told CBS in an October report. "It's also something the league would covet given the Chargers' current struggles to sell PSLs and sponsorships at the glistening new stadium they will share with the Rams in Inglewood beginning next fall."

Though they dipped in 2019, the Chargers still have enough talent to contend in 2020. If they're going to sign a veteran QB in free agency, a Brady addition might be more attractive to them than a Philip Rivers return.

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  • Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are another team positioned to contend with stable QB play, though former Patriot Jacoby Brissett had a solid 2019 season despite the team's struggles, most of which were tied to injuries. This would be an interesting signing given the history the Colts have with the Patriots.

  • Las Vegas Raiders

Like the Chargers, the Raiders are moving into a fancy new stadium in 2020 and are positioned to contend in the AFC West. There's no telling, though, how Brady would feel about playing in Las Vegas and/or for Jon Gruden.

  • Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins may or may not be ready to contend in 2020, so this is all about the Brian Flores connection. Brady would be familiar with the coaching staff in Miami, and he might welcome a chance to play against New England twice a year.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bruce Arians is anything but committed to Jameis Winston, who also is set to hit free agency. Brady could be intrigued by the idea of playing with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in a passer-friendly offense. Tampa Bay also has a chance to compete in and — if things go right against New Orleans — win the NFC South in 2020.

  • Carolina Panthers

Current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, one of Brady's closest pals in New England, is a candidate to replace Ron Rivera as Panthers head coach. If McDaniels goes to Carolina, he could convince Brady to go with him.

  • Denver Broncos

We've seen this movie before, although Brady now is much older than Peyton Manning was when he signed with John Elway's Broncos in 2012. Denver could use a QB upgrade despite the promise of Drew Lock, but it's tough to see the intrigue for Brady.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers

Hoo boy, this would be fun. There's no guarantee Ben Roethlisberger will return from the elbow injury that ended his 2019 season early even though he claims that's his goal. The Steelers also learned this season they don't have their next franchise passer on the roster; not that Brady would be an answer for the long term. Pittsburgh obviously would give Brady a chance to win big in 2020.

  • Chicago Bears

The Bears are stuck with Mitchell Trubisky for at least another season, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't jump at a chance to upgrade for 2020. Matt Nagy's offense could be a comfortable fit for Brady.

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