Tom Brady

For Tom Brady and the Patriots, the End Seems Near

Happy Sunday.

A pandemic has the world on edge. Social media and supermarket squabbles are flaring up over toilet paper, testing and social distancing.

That can-do American spirit of cooperation and self-sacrifice? It's in a clash with that Can-Do-Whatever-I-Want American spirit: "I'm a big boy! You can't tell me to stay inside!"

And by the end of the week, there's a good chance Tom Brady won't be on the Patriots anymore.

 It's enough to make you think about heading to church and hitting your knees for an hour. Can't. Mass is canceled.

That COVID-19's rise is coinciding with Brady's imminent departure might have some people feeling mildly philosophical.

To some, the pandemic allows us to put a football player's work decisions in the "prawpawww puhspective… . " How can anyone wring their hands over where some ultra-privileged 43-year-old man and his supermodel wife go IN THESE TROUBLING TIMES!!!???

Others might notice their brains are capable of housing an abiding concern about the COVID AND an understanding that the departure of the greatest quarterback in NFL history from the greatest dynasty in NFL history under somewhat acrimonious circumstances is a big frickin' deal and that attention should be paid.

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How will this week play out? Where do things currently stand between Brady and the Patriots?

First things first, the 2020 NFL League Year is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 4 p.m. That's when the final two years of Brady's contract will void and he'll be an unrestricted free agent.

Prior to that, on Monday at noon, teams can initiate contact with Brady's agent, Don Yee, to express interest and negotiate all aspects of an agreement – term, money, you name it. No agreements can be signed or announced and any agreements reached during that period are non-binding.

Because of the pandemic, a delay to free agency is being discussed but for right now, that's the timeline.

With Sunday morning's announcement that the Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed to by the players, the Patriots now have that supposed obstacle to earnest negotiations with Brady removed. They have a day to make headway.  

And they have a long way to go.

I reported last month the Patriots are under the impression the market for Brady is going to be lean. Brady's camp, meanwhile, has insisted the opposite.

A swell of reporters has pooh-poohed league-wide interest as a Brady-camp ploy to create urgency for the Patriots. That would only make sense if – at this point – returning to the Patriots was Brady's preference.

Seems doubtful. Foot-dragging by head coach Bill Belichick in starting negotiations sent the same message Brady's been receiving since 2017: Belichick's ambivalent about keeping Brady around.

An unproductive phone call two weeks ago during which Brady was reportedly told he'd be paid less than he was in 2019 and, if he stayed, there would be no multi-year deal didn't help either. And last week's intimations through ESPN reporter Field Yates that framed Brady as unwilling to commit to the Patriots and challenged his side to explain their demands weren't quite an olive branch.

That "radical course change" that I wrote in December had to happen in order to keep Brady in town? It hasn't happened. Not by a far sight.

When the tampering period begins, teams we know are interested in Brady – the Buccaneers and Chargers – are going to dive headlong into an effort to sway him.

Teams that have been lying in the weeds and denying interest so as to protect themselves if they don't secure his services – the Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Titans and maybe the Niners – will now be forced to poop or get off the pot.

By Wednesday we'll know decisively whether the Patriots underestimated interest in teams employing the greatest quarterback that's ever played or whether the rest of the league – like the Patriots themselves – sure do like Tom Brady but just weren't buying on a 43-year-old being the answer for them.

Sources have told me that, if Brady hits free agency, a drawn-out process of deciding where he will play is unlikely. I've also been told that, rather than being melancholy about the prospective end of his time in New England, Brady's at peace and looking forward to the possibilities in front of him.

Over his 20 seasons with the team, he's seen so many treasured teammates pushed overboard in the name of "what's best for the football team." Brady's always understood that – no matter what he'd accomplished – he didn't expect a different end for himself. But in a way, he ensured a different end.

Tom Brady can jump overboard before he gets pushed. And very soon, we will see if he does.

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