Let’s take a look at eight possible outcomes and how each of them could play out:
Brady re-signs with the Patriots before free agency opens.
The Patriots will have to move more quickly than they have so far to make this happen, although they have been held back by not knowing the salary cap number, which is dependent upon whether the players’ union ratifies the new proposed collective bargaining agreement recently approved by the owners.
Additionally, the Patriots are already on the hook for $6.75 million against the salary cap this year because of Brady’s contract, and that will grow to $13.5 million if a new CBA isn’t in place. (If there is a new CBA, that second $6.75 million cap charge rolls over to next year.) Players have until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to vote, so we will know by then whether the deal goes into effect. At that point, the Patriots can be more realistic about what they can offer Brady.
Brady tests free agency but re-signs with the Patriots.
If Brady doesn’t re-sign before free agency opens at 4 p.m. March 18, the odds of him returning would drop below 50 percent. Not only would the Patriots need to know whether he’ll be back or if they need to pursue other quarterback options — it will be interesting to see if the Patriots talk with other QBs during the legal tampering period — but it would make things more difficult in terms of upgrading the offensive supporting cast around Brady, which presumably is high on his wish list if he is to return.
By March 17, Brady will know how much other teams are willing to pay. On the open market, Brady could get as much as $34 million per year on a short-term deal. He could bring a contract offer to the Patriots to see if they will match it or let him go.
Brady signs with the Tennessee Titans.
Titans Coach Mike Vrabel is a former teammate and a friend. Case in point: Brady and wide receiver Julian Edelman FaceTimed him from a Syracuse basketball game last weekend. General Manager Jon Robinson also knows Brady from his time in New England.
Perhaps more importantly, the Titans have a playoff-ready roster, having advanced to last season’s AFC championship game by defeating the Patriots and then the Baltimore Ravens on the road in back-to-back weeks. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill came off the bench midseason to lead that playoff run, but, like Brady, he is a free agent.
That combination of factors — including offensive playmakers such as running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown — makes Tennessee the leading candidate outside of New England to land Brady.
Brady signs with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Even though Raiders GM Mike Mayock said good things about Derek Carr during the scouting combine, you get the feeling the Raiders would explore an upgrade at quarterback if the right opportunity came along.
From their time as television commentators, Mayock and Jon Gruden have talked to Brady before games more than almost any other front-office executive or coach. They know him. They’ve watched him practice. It’s easy to see why they would be intrigued by the idea of signing him.
Brady probably would know that Mayock and Gruden would be aggressive in adding talent around him, particularly on an offense that already has rising stars in running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller. But would Las Vegas have enough on defense, particularly in a division with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?
Brady signs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This one is intriguing. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t hide the fact that he’s interested in Brady when asked about free agent quarterbacks at the combine, and he has plenty to pitch to Brady. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, O.J. Howard is a talented tight end, and coordinator Todd Bowles has improved the defense.
With Jameis Winston a free agent, the Bucs could make a run at Brady, or they could opt for Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers.
Brady signs with the Los Angeles Chargers.
At the beginning of the offseason, the Chargers looked like the leading team for Brady. The Chargers are moving into a new stadium, and Brady could help sell tickets. The draw of playing in L.A. could help the team’s sales pitch.
But the latest rumblings are that the Chargers’ preference is to draft a quarterback with the sixth pick — possibly Oregon’s Justin Herbert — and let Tyrod Taylor run the offense until the rookie is ready. We’ll see if they end up talking to Brady.
Brady signs with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts will do their due diligence on Brady, but they might be more likely to sign Rivers, who worked with Coach Frank Reich for three years when he was the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach and eventual offensive coordinator. Indianapolis has a playoff-ready roster and isn’t committed long term to quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Brady signs with the San Francisco 49ers.
This one is a long shot, but there is a chance. Brady probably wouldn’t mind finishing his career near where he was raised, and the 49ers are the most talented team that could pursue him. Although San Francisco’s players love Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady is still a good-enough quarterback to get the 49ers to the Super Bowl and win.
I still don’t see this happening. Signing a quarterback who will be 43 when the season starts would probably shorten the 49ers’ window as a Super Bowl contender. They could win next year with Brady, but adding a $34 million quarterback and taking a salary cap hit on Garoppolo could make it tough to keep the team’s core together. The 49ers already will struggle to keep defensive lineman Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward this offseason, as they look ahead to big-money contract extensions for tight end George Kittle and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, among others.