Tom Brady has won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and established one of the greatest long-term dynasties in NFL history alongside Bill Belichick. Now, for the first time in his career, Brady will become a free agent and his future will officially be up in the air.
There’s no guarantee Brady even entertains the thought of leaving New England. But as of right now, he’s a free agent, he’s left his future open-ended, and he says he’s unlikely to retire.
With free agency rapidly approaching in March, all indications lead to Brady at least testing the waters of the free agent market for the first time.
However likely or unlikely it is, it’s fair to wonder: where could Brady go if he decided to continue his NFL career without the Patriots?
The 42-year-old would likely need a win-now situation without an established quarterback. Brady is probably better than about half the quarterbacks in the league, and perhaps just as many teams would give up their current QB situation for a chance at Brady. Still, I wouldn’t count on a team giving up a Pro Bowl quarterback or a promising young signal-caller to get two or three years at most from Brady.
Again, we’re not here to argue the likeliness of Brady leaving New England, just the potential landing spots if he did.
Los Angeles Chargers
After the Patriots surprising first round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, early rumblings suggested Brady could have a potential suitor in the Los Angeles Chargers. This would be contingent on Philip Rivers, also a free agent, moving on from the franchise. (UPDATE: Rivers will indeed move on from the Chargers in 2020. Here are five landing spots for the veteran quarterback.)
Though the Chargers finished 4th in the AFC West at 5-11, they’re just a year removed from a 12-4 campaign. There is plenty of talent on the Chargers roster, and they caught a lot of bad breaks in 2019.
Brady would have to share the AFC West with Patrick Mahommes, who along with Lamar Jackson lays claim to the next generation of great quarterbacks. With Brady, the Chargers could potentially contend with the Kansas City Chiefs for the division title, but may have to settle for a wildcard berth.
This one would feel so weird, but could be possible.
First and foremost, Brady at this point in his career wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over the once Patriots backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Still, as mentioned earlier, a lot of teams that feel neutral on their quarterback situation would likely pull the trigger on a couple years of Brady.
This would feel weird, obviously, as Brady would be donning the uniform and colors of his once-biggest rival: Peyton Manning.
Just like how Manning ended his career with an epic statistical season and a Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos, Brady could end his career with a unique chapter in Indianapolis.
The Colts sputtered to the finish with a 7-9 record this season, but with Brady under center, I believe they could contend for the AFC South title. Brady would also have to get through Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans, the team that eliminated him in the playoffs in 2020.
This is where things start to get kooky.
Instead of a Peyton Manning, what if Brady pulled a Brett Favre: playing for a long-time divisional rival.
Brady could stay in the AFC East, but I wouldn’t see him going to the Buffalo Bills or New York Jets. But what if Brady tried to write the final chapter of his career in sunny Miami?
This would pair Brady with Brian Flores, though if he wants to win right now, the Dolphins may not have the best roster to contend with. Picking the Dolphins would be more about environment and continuing to play than winning Super Bowls.
Still, perhaps Miami’s front office could be aggressive if given a small window with Brady’s services.
Bonus points if Brady says he’s taking his talents to South Beach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the Dolphins, the Buccaneers might not be the best destination if Brady is looking for his 7th Super Bowl title. That’s not to say he couldn’t do well in Tampa Bay, who went 7-9 despite 30 interceptions from Jameis Winston in 2019.
Even with room for growth, I wouldn’t call the Buccaneers an instant Super Bowl contender with Brady. But just like the Dolphins, if warm weather and the license to keep playing as long as he pleases are motivating factors, than Brady could set up shop in Tampa Bay for a few years.
While Winston led the league in passing yards in 2019, his future with the Buccaneers is uncertain. Signing Brady would be an easy excuse for Tampa Bay to part ways with the inconsistent Winston. Otherwise, the Buccaneers may feel stuck, not wanting to give up a decent quarterback but unable to get over the hump with him.
Mike Evans would be a fun target for Brady to throw to.
The Bears situation would be a lot like the Buccaneers giving up on Winston. Chicago isn’t exactly in love with what they’ve seen from Mitch Trubisky, but at the same time, serviceable quarterbacks aren’t always easy to come by, so the Bears would be hesitant to give up on Trubisky.
Enter Brady once again. The only problem this time is that Trubisky is under contract through the 2020 season. But once again, for the chance to have Brady under center, I’d imagine the Bears would move some pieces, potentially trade Trubisky, and make it a reality.
With a strong defense and a good collection of speedy and physical receivers, Chicago may be one of the best fits from a football standpoint for Brady. The offensive line may need a slight boost, as keeping Brady upright is very important at this point in his career.
Relatively, this is an unlikely destination for Brady. But I think it could give him one of his best shots at a Super Bowl outside of New England.
Peyton Manning comparisons would be inevitable if Brady went to Indianapolis, but what if Brady followed Manning’s late career steps and also played for the Denver Broncos?
Thanks to Manning’s precedent, the expectation would likely be a Super Bowl title during his tenure in Denver.
2nd-year quarterback Drew Lock did enough in the Broncos 7-9 2019 campaign to earn the starting spot heading into 2020: that is, unless a generational, Hall of Fame quarterback came knocking on the door.
Once again, it would take the front office abandoning their current quarterback situation for a shot at something special.
Denver played very well in the season’s second half, and the defense would keep Brady in almost every game. Just like with the Chargers, it may be a tall task to unseat the Chiefs atop the AFC West, but Brady’s Broncos could probably compete for a wildcard spot.
This one comes with a major caveat, but if Ben Roethlisberger has trouble returning to the field in 2020, Brady would be a unique and intriguing option at quarterback.
Pittsburgh finished 8-8 and nearly made the playoffs this season in spite of the quarterback play of Mason Rudolph and Devin Hodges, not because of it. That’s not to say the young quarterbacks didn’t show flashes of promise, but the Steelers were likely a solid quarterback away from making the playoffs.
Roethlisberger has set his intents to return in 2020, but there’s a possibility he doesn’t recover from his injury as expected, or otherwise decides it would be best for himself to hang up the cleats.
It’s a huge “what if,” but it would create a situation where a Mike Tomlin-led team with a solid roster had a gaping hole at quarterback. With Brady under center, I think the Steelers would be elevated from an 8-win team to a double-digit win team in playoff contention.
Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders are one of the most talked about teams to land Brady’s services, but I don’t see it. From a pure skill standpoint, inserting Brady over incumbent starter Derek Carr wouldn’t guarantee a playoff berth, let alone a Super Bowl run. And the Raiders will be looking for a new identity as they move to Las Vegas. I don’t see it being a situation that plays out with Brady on the roster.
New York Jets
Like I said earlier, I don’t really see this happening. It would be the ultimate switching sides in the AFC East, between two long-time, close proximity rivals. I also don’t see the Jets giving up on Sam Darnold so quickly.
But we’ve seen the Jets make crazier quarterback moves before, from Brett Favre to Tim Tebow to Michael Vick to Ryan Fitzptrick. New York loves swinging big at the position.
Could the dissapointed 7-9 Dallas Cowboys blow everything up, and part ways with both Jason Garrett and Dak Prescott?
Again, not likely, as Brady wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over Prescott from a pure skill standpoint. Dallas seems committed to Dak for the forseeable future. Yet at the same time, Jerry Jones doesn’t seem like the kind of man that would turn down a chance at something special.
Brady in Dallas, with an elite running back and strong defense, would make the Cowboys instant NFC East favorites and a real threat in the NFC.
We would have to be living in an alternate universe to see Brady in a Browns uniform in 2020. Baker Mayfield will likely be back under center for the Browns, though I get the sense that Cleveland would take an upgrade if available.
Assuming Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb are all on the Browns roster next season, Brady could run a special offense in Cleveland. The Browns would be far from a perfect team, but Brady might just complete the all-star dynamic that Cleveland is going for on offense.
Header Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images
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