“I don’t know what the future looks like, so I’m not going to predict it,” Brady said.
But he did provide some clarity when asked about retiring.
“I would say it’s pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely,” he said.
There is still a good chance Brady is back as the Patriots’ quarterback next season. The team has no obvious successor, having traded backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, both now starters elsewhere. And despite this season’s disappointing finish, New England still has a chance to be a Super Bowl contender next season, particularly if it addresses issues along the offensive line and in the receiving corps.
But there is also a chance that he and New England part ways after 20 seasons together. The Patriots probably would have to pay between $25 million and $35 million per year to keep him, and Brady has been noncommittal over the past year about his desire to remain with the team moving forward.
If Brady, who is a free agent for the first time in his career, decides to test the open market, which teams could make sense for him? Let’s take a look at the top options:
Indianapolis Colts: General Manager Chris Ballard said the jury is still out on Brissett, who took over after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement this preseason and is on a two-year, $30 million contract that ends after the 2020 season. It’s already being speculated that Philip Rivers, a free agent after a disappointing season for the Los Angeles Chargers, could end up in Indianapolis. Colts Coach Frank Reich was Rivers’s quarterbacks coach in 2013 and his offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015.
Brady would make sense as a short-term option in Indianapolis, and in many ways, the Colts could offer him what he was missing with the Patriots this season. They have one of the best offensive lines in football. Marlon Mack is a Pro Bowl-caliber running back. Jack Doyle is a solid tight end. T.Y. Hilton is one of the NFL’s best wide receivers. Ballard continues to build a talented defense. With Brady, the Colts would be an AFC contender.
Los Angeles Chargers: If the Chargers let Rivers walk, they would need a new starter as they move into a new stadium. Brady could be the attraction that sells tickets, which has been an issue since the Chargers left San Diego.
Brady joining the Chargers may not have the same impact as LeBron James going to the Los Angeles Lakers — Brady will be 43 in August, and there is no comparing the fan bases — but it would bring instant credibility to the team. He would have Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry as his main targets. The Chargers would need help on the offensive line, but it could be an interesting fit.
The team that hires Josh McDaniels: The Patriots’ offensive coordinator will interview with the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants this week, and some believe he is the leading candidate for the Browns and Panthers.
McDaniels might have a hard time selling a quarterback change in Cleveland. The Browns have Baker Mayfield, and even though Mayfield had a horrible season, he was the first pick in the 2018 draft and he’s in the middle of his rookie contract, which gives the Browns salary cap flexibility to add to the roster.
The Giants similarly invested in a young quarterback: Daniel Jones, the sixth pick of the 2019 draft, had an up-and-down rookie season. The Panthers are in the process of deciding whether to move on from Cam Newton, whose career has stalled because of injuries.
Miami Dolphins: At quarterback, the Dolphins are probably deciding between 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick and a rookie from this year’s draft. And former longtime Patriots assistant Brian Flores is Miami’s head coach, so it’s clear why there would be interest in Brady from the team’s perspective.
But I can’t see Brady going for this. The Dolphins are one of the least talented teams in the league; they didn’t have a single player picked for the Pro Bowl — not even as an alternate. Plus, how uncomfortable would it be for Brady to wear a Dolphins uniform after dominating them in the AFC East for two decades?
Tennessee Titans: It’s clear Ryan Tannehill is the right quarterback for this team. Once he took over for Marcus Mariota, the Titans made a run to the playoffs and then beat the Patriots on the road Saturday. They would love to sign him to a contract extension.
But what if they can’t come to an agreement? A short-term deal with Brady might look more appealing. General Manager Jon Robinson comes from Patriots stock; he was hired as a Patriots scout in 2002, two years after Brady was drafted. Brady joining the Titans might be the most unlikely scenario, but then again, who would have thought going into this season that Brady might not finish his career as a Patriot?
Denver Broncos: John Elway struck gold when he went for an aging Hall of Fame quarterback, making it to two Super Bowls and winning one with Peyton Manning. Even after Drew Lock won four of five games as a rookie starter, Elway might be tempted to go after Brady. Lock is under contract for three more years. He could learn from Brady, and Brady could give the Broncos a better chance to catch up to the Kansas City Chiefs. And Elway is always in win-now mode.