The free agent market isn’t as robust as it might otherwise seem for a quarterback of Tom Brady’s caliber, especially after the Titans signed Ryan Tannehill to a contract extension. Is Brady serious about testing the market? Will he end up returning to New England? Ringer staffers offer their favorite destinations for the 42-year-old Patriots passer.
San Francisco 49ers
Riley McAtee: As Michael Scott would say, the best kind of deal is a win-win-win. It requires finding creative solutions that make everyone happy. In this case, that means not only a deal that makes Tom Brady and his new team happy but also the Patriots happy as well. What does that look like? I can think of only one such scenario: Brady signs with the 49ers, who then trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the Patriots.
Of course, this sounds ridiculous—and it’s unlikely, as the 49ers are reportedly uninterested in signing Brady. But it makes all the sense in the world. Brady, a San Mateo, California, native, grew up rooting for the 49ers and idolizing Joe Montana. He was at Candlestick for The Catch. Now 42, he surely wants to finish his career on a contender, and the Super Bowl losers have the kind of stacked roster that would allow him to thrive while he rides into the sunset draped in the colors of his youth. Win.
The Niners, meanwhile, get an upgrade at quarterback. Garoppolo was up-and-down as a starter in 2019 despite an unstoppable running game, a great offensive line, and reliable pass catchers in George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Emmanuel Sanders. Head coach Kyle Shanahan would have to adjust his system for Brady, who isn’t as comfortable with slow-developing play-action plays and bootlegs and rollouts, but the GOAT comes with the potential to put this team over the top. Win, win.
And the Patriots? Bill Belichick loves Jimmy G—and was reportedly pressured by Robert Kraft into trading him away in 2017. Now Belichick can be reunited with Garoppolo and probably for around the same price they got for him in 2018 (a second-round pick). If Brady departs, Belichick will need to figure out his quarterback situation as soon as possible. Rather than put the work into developing a rookie or rolling the dice on a Marcus Mariota–type fringe starter, he can secure a guy he already trusts. Win, win, win.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Justin Sayles: We’ve seen it a hundred times: the legendary athlete in a strange new uniform. Sure, there’s Montana on the Chiefs and Favre on the Vikings, but we can get weirder than that with Tom Brady. I’m talking Olajuwon on the Raptors, Wade on the Cavs, Boggs on the Devil Rays. If Brady is going to leave the Patriots, let’s put him in a bizarro world—let’s put him in a Tampa Bay Bucs jersey.
The truth is, while those alarm clock and Creamsicle unis may be a poor aesthetic match, the team could be a great football fit for Brady. In Tampa, he’d work with offensive guru Bruce Arians, who coached an aging Carson Palmer to some of his best seasons in Arizona. He’d also have the most talented one-two receiver punch he’s ever played with in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Throw in prime will-he-finally-break-out candidate O.J. Howard and an offensive line that’s strong in the interior, and the Bucs could offer a 43-year-old Brady all he needs to prosper. The question is, however, can he still throw deep, as Arians requires his quarterbacks to? And despite what the numbers may say, any Pats fan will tell you that it’s been a while since that’s really been the case.
Las Vegas Raiders
Rodger Sherman: When a new casino opens in Vegas, they hire a washed-up musician to play a concert residency. A million strips of neon light up the desert night, letting tourists know they can empty their wallets to see their former favorite performer play the greatest hits of 15 years ago—with a little less verve and sex appeal than they would’ve had in their prime. And when a new football team opens in Vegas, it only stands to reason that they should hire a washed-up quarterback to play a residency.
Sure, the Patriots won the Super Bowl two years ago on the back of their incredible defense, but it seems pretty obvious that ageless wonder Tom Brady is starting to show the signs of age. In 2019, he finished toward the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. The Raiders already have a better quarterback: Derek Carr had a higher passer rating, QBR, and touchdown rate, and threw for more yards per attempt than Brady in 2019. And surely, some of Brady’s late-career success stems from the fact that he plays for the smartest team in football—what will happen when he leaves the Patriots cocoon?
I’ll tell you what happens: eight dates on the Vegas Strip! No, he can’t hit the high notes or the out routes anymore, but still—don’t you want to see the greatest star of the 2000s and 2010s with a red-faced Jon Gruden as his sidekick?
Katie Baker: Play in the XFL, coward! Tom Brady could show some real range by going from the most well-oiled machine in the industry in the New England Patriots to a league defined by, nay, proud of its chaos in the XFL. He could whip some raw young talent into big-league shape; he could play until he’s 50. Forget player-coach: He could be player-commissioner, getting groomed for the job by current XFL commish Oliver Luck. (Maybe Luck’s son, Andrew, would be inspired to throw on the pads to try to avenge his 0-6 NFL record against Brady!) We already know Brady can throw the long ball, so let’s see how he does at playing the long game. In the end, ask yourself this: Who would you rather see Brady defeat—the Cleveland Browns in Week 5 or Roger Goodell and the entire NFL apparatus?
Stay in the AFC East
Andrew Gruttadaro: For more than half of my life I’ve been terrified of Tom Brady. His record against the Buffalo Bills is 29-3; since 2001, he’s won more games at New Era Field than any Bills quarterback; one time he made fun of the hotels in Buffalo, and it was pretty frustrating for us Western NYers, but—he said that shit at a Super Bowl that the Bills definitely weren’t playing in, so what were we gonna do? Brady has owned the Bills and the division for two decades. And yet, of all the places Tom Brady could go this offseason, I want nothing more than for him to stay in the AFC East.
The thing is, I simply feel more confident saddling Bill Belichick with a 43-year-old quarterback who threw duck after duck last season than whomever else the Patriots might bring in, be it Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, or Teddy Bridgewater. Belichick can work magic with those guys and once again tower over the rest of the division; with Brady still there, the task is much harder. I just want my Increasingly Decrepit King to force the Pats to pay him an absurd amount of money so he can wither away in New England for a few more years—while the Buffalo Bills ascend to the throne, obviously. (This is what happens when you give a hopeless man whatever hope can be derived from blowing a playoff win to the Houston Texans.)
The Indianapolis Colts
Danny Heifetz: Tom Brady’s Colts are down four points with five minutes left in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. Brady completely turned the Colts offense around in the 2020 regular season, and the Colts secured the no. 1 seed in the AFC for the first time since Peyton Manning led the team to a 14-2 record in 2009. Now Peyton and his brother Eli Manning are watching from a luxury suite in Lucas Oil Stadium—the House that Peyton Built—and cheering for Brady, the defining nemesis of Manning’s career. But Brady’s offense has been stifled all night by Bill Belichick’s defense. The Pats seem to know every trick in Brady’s book, especially the throws he can’t make anymore at 43 years old. But now Brady has dinked and dunked his way to a third-and-goal at the 5-yard line with less than a minute to play and a 10th Super Bowl appearance on the line. Patriots quarterback Philip Rivers looks nervous on the sideline. On third down, Brady drops ba—don’t you want to see this happen?
Matt James: Rob Gronkowski is reportedly signing a contract with the WWE, so my advice to Tom Brady is to reunite with Gronk—in the wrestling ring. What more does Brady have to prove on the football field at this point? He’s the greatest ever to do it, and he doesn’t need any more rings for that to remain true for an obscenely long time (like, forever?). With his abilities clearly in decline, pivoting to wrestling would revitalize the WWE and place Brady and Gronk in the brightest spotlight of sports entertainment. They could call their tag team The Patriots. Brady could throw opponents to Gronk for him to spike. They could recruit an aged-out wrestler to don a hoodie, carry a clipboard, wear a headset, and pretend to coach them throughout their matches. Gronk could show Brady how to shotgun a beer. Entire arenas would sell out to witness The Patriots and with some deft contract negotiating, Brady could make a hefty chunk of change.
Of course, we know this won’t actually happen. Tom Brady HATES being knocked down, and he’s used to winning at a rate that would be unrealistic in the WWE.
Los Angeles Chargers
Robert Mays: Folks I’ve talked to who know the Chargers well expect GM Tom Telesco to go the boring route and use Tyrod Taylor as a bridge option from Philip Rivers while fishing for their next QB in this year’s draft. But c’mon—does any team in the league really need Tom Brady more than the Chargers? Since moving to L.A., the franchise (which I will inadvertently refer to as “San Diego” until my dying days) has failed to find its foothold in a saturated sports market. The Chargers played in an empty stadium before public health concerns mandated it. Coaxing Brady to Hollywood would give the Chargers instant credibility in the city and a built-in draw as they try to fill their new stadium this fall. If you can believe it, season tickets are still available! Convincing Brady to move his family across the country won’t be easy, but word is that he wants to play in a big market. And I’m guessing he’d have an easier time convincing Gisele to live in Malibu than in Tampa. After using the franchise tag on tight end Hunter Henry, the Chargers can offer Brady a pass-catching group of Henry, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler. That’s a better stable of weapons than Brady’s had in years. We just won’t mention the offensive line. He’s better off not knowing.
The New England Patriots
Kevin O’Connor: After Tom Brady returned from a torn ACL in 2009, at age 32, and continued shredding defenses, per usual, I made a bet with my dad: “Brady will still be playing football when I turn 30.” We’re at that point now in 2020: I turn 30 in July, and Brady turns 43 in August. It felt like a bold call 11 years ago, so I didn’t think my dad would take me seriously. But he did. “Brady would be 43. Hm. Seems possible,” he said. “Warren Moon played into his 40s. Brett Favre is still playing at 40. Why not? But will he still be with the Patriots?” To that, I replied, “I don’t know.”
I still don’t know. Brady could leave New England, just like his boyhood idol Joe Montana left San Francisco for Kansas City, or his rival Peyton Manning left Indianapolis for Denver. But why? Forget about my Patriots fandom here; it’s irrelevant. What I want for Brady is the best chance to win his seventh Super Bowl. I want him to be undeniably the greatest winner in the history of sports. The happiness he’s provided my dad and myself goes far beyond the laundry he wears. And I struggle to find reasons for him to leave. Do any of these rumored destinations really offer him a better chance to win? Is it worth uprooting his family? Would it be worth the risk of tarnishing his legacy if he fails? If Brady stays with the Patriots, he has the support to win again. At the very least, he’ll have a storybook ending to his career by finishing where it all started. No matter—I’m just happy to win that bet. Dad, I’m going to see the GOAT play again.