NFL free agency is about to get underway in just a little over a month. There are a number of prizes to be had but perhaps none so scrutinized and anticipated as legendary quarterback Tom Brady. A true free agent for the first time in a 20-year career spent entirely with the New England Patriots, he may be about to turn 43, but is still playing at a high level and is sure to have many suitors. Once a foregone conclusion that he would return to the only team he has known professionally, it appears that is no longer such a sure thing. So, who will he play for in 2020?
The case for the New England Patriots: Having appeared in nine Super Bowls (winning six) to go along with 74,571 passing yards and 541 touchdowns, it’s hard to imagine one player having a more impressive resume with one team. He not only has an obvious successful history with head coach Bill Belichick, but also has had a close relationship with owner Robert Kraft, who reportedly wants the signal caller back at practically any cost — even reportedly being willing to give him $30 million annually to stay.
On the other hand, it no longer appears that the Patriots necessarily give Brady the best chance at continuing to win and truly build on his awe-inspiring legacy. Tight end Rob Gronkowski retired before last season and even though there continue to be hints he may return, he is 30 and his body has taken an epic pounding over the years due to his physical style of play. Wide receiver Julian Edelman is coming off perhaps his finest season but is about to turn 34 and similarly has been beaten up during his career. There currently isn’t much else to be excited about on the offensive side of the ball, which is not the kind of a scenario a living legend playing on borrowed time is likely to covet.
The case for the Dallas Cowboys: A recent cause celebre has been the speculation that Brady could end up in the Lone Star State to help Jerry Jones break his lengthy streak of mediocrity. That makes for good print but is not practical when it comes to running one of the most successful franchises in sports.
It’s possible that Brady could ride into Dallas and take them back to the Super Bowl. However, the gamble of that working out would be greatly overshadowed by the fact that his age makes him a candidate to severely regress or retire at any time, which would really sink the franchise and necessitate them building from scratch yet again. It makes far more sense for them to pursue their own free agent, Dak Prescott, who is just 26 and one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. If he is deemed too expensive, there are other younger options to build around and provide a little more stability than gambling on father time continuing to give Brady a pass.
The case for the Los Angeles Chargers: The team recently announced that longtime stalwart Philip Rivers will be searching for a new employer after 16 seasons under center. Brady is originally from California and it has often been speculated that he would enjoy playing back there closer to family. Los Angeles offers a team with solid receivers and a receiving back in Austin Ekeler, who is reminiscent of some of the great pass catchers New England has had coming out of the backfield over the years.
Similar to New England, Brady doesn’t make a lot of sense in Los Angeles because while they have a number of workmanlike players, they don’t boast many stars, particularly on offense. They also don’t have the stud head coach or recent track record to suggest they are anywhere close to contending. With time definitely being of the essence for the aging quarterback, it’s hard to see the two as a natural match.
The case for the Las Vegas Raiders: Although it’s hard to believe, this may be the best fit for Brady at the moment. The team is moving to their new home city, which with its size, glitz and glamour promise to provide one of the NFL’s most marketable teams with enviable marketing opportunities. Starting their inaugural seasons with the great quarterback of all-time leading them would be an unbelievable business opportunity not only for them, but also for him, as he may be thinking about transitioning his brand into his post-playing career.
The Raiders also have plenty to offer from a competitive standpoint. Head coach Jon Gruden has won a Super Bowl and built his career on his work with quarterbacks. Young players like running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller are a very nice set of options to build around. It’s also clear the team and incumbent quarterback Derek Carr are ready for a split. His inconsistent play during his six-year tenure was punctuated by his being mercilessly booed in the final game in Oakland this past season.
Brady has often toed the company line in the past, doing what was needed to keep the cogs churning in New England. This resulted in pay cuts and deferred money, but also in unprecedented success. It seems like this may be the time for him to do what he thinks is best for himself and not the team while he still has some juice on the field. If that’s the case, his best bet appears to be heading west to join the Raiders and help them transition to their new home. Regardless of speculation, it’s only a matter of time before his intentions are revealed and everyone finds out where the future Hall-of Famer plays in 2020 and beyond.