For the first time in two decades, there is at least a pinch of uncertainty regarding where Tom Brady will suit up.
With Brady engineering his way to free agency for the first time in his career in 2020, the prospect of TB12 not donning a Patriots jersey sits heavy on the mind of New England owner Robert Kraft.
Speaking to Peter King for his Football Morning in America column before the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by the Tennessee Titans, Kraft reiterated that he hopes Brady elects to continue his career in New England or walk away from the game altogether.
“Before the season started,” Kraft said, “it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year. You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to six Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he’s part of my family. Blood family. Anyone who’s done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years. And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”
Brady’s contract gives him significant leverage and includes a provision that doesn’t allow the Patriots to tag him this season.
As he said after the loss, Brady told King that he isn’t thinking about retirement.
“Yeah,” said Brady. “I think I’m just… I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are. If it’s the Patriots, great. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I love playing football. I still want to play football. I think I still can play at a championship level. I’ve just got to go do it. I’m motivated to get back to work and training.”
Now the question moving forward will be more about whether Brady plans to seek out a new employer to continue that career as he turns 43 years old.
Kraft has nightmares of the GOAT in a different jersey. While it seems impossible Brady could play elsewhere, he wouldn’t be the first Hall of Fame quarterback to play out the string in a new city. Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and many others found themselves in other jerseys before the close of their careers.
“I’m thinking of all that, of all the quarterbacks who went elsewhere, and I just hope and believe that Tom… he is so special that he’s earned the right to do what’s best for him. But I just hope and pray we fit into his plans,” Kraft said. “He is unique in the kind of leader he is, his work ethic, his selfless nature, everything. Think about it: He’s been with us 20 percent of the life of the NFL.”
After an unimpressive season, change might be in the winds in New England for the first time in 20 years. Whether Kraft can keep his Brady-Bill Belichick pairing together for at least one more year looms as the largest offseason storyline.