Just typing out the title of this post would be considered blasphemy in the six New England states. There’s a solid chance that my family disowns me after reading this and my friends all shun me. But unfortunately, this is a reality that needs to be considered. Because with the way this season is setting up there is a real possibility that New England fans have just one last season to watch the greatest quarterback of all time suit up in navy and white on Sundays.
This sounds like a ridiculous proposition. Brady is coming off of a phenomenal season where he set an NFL record for touchdown-interception ratio, led his team to a 11-1 regular season record (after his four game suspension where the team started 3-1), and won his fourth Super Bowl MVP award while bringing the Patriots back from a 25 point deficit in the Super Bowl. He is playing better now than he was in the beginning of his career. However, this offseason has established a number of subtle undertones that cannot be brushed aside.
The first thing to understand is that trading players in their perceived prime is not a new phenomenon for Bill Belichick. It has been a common theme over the past 17 years with outstanding players like Richard Seymour, Chandler Jones, and Jaime Collins all shipped off in moves that nearly blindsided the New England fans. Belichick is always looking a few years into the future, and judges his players based on that metric rather than what they might be able to do for the upcoming season. He also prefers to trade players while they still have some value, even if it can be perceived as too soon by Patriot fans. For example, many were shocked that Jaime Collins was traded halfway through last season, and were concerned that it would derail New England’s Super Bowl aspirations. On the other hand, Belichick was willing to trade Collins to ensure that the Patriots would have an additional piece to continue building for the future, rather than letting Collins walk in free agency and the Patriots receiving nothing in return
There is also the consideration of Brady’s age. At 39, Brady had one of the best seasons of his career. He seems to be in top shape physically, and mentally he will undoubtedly be as sharp as ever. However at this age, the chance of Brady’s performance dropping off is becoming exponentially larger. One can look at Peyton Manning as a prime example. At 37 years old he had arguably the best season of his career, setting the single season touchdown record and leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Yet two years later, he had broken down physically to the point where he had to be benched because he could not complete the same throws that had once been so effortless. Does this mean that Brady is going to immediately begin to decline and get benched this season? No. But the chances of an injury or just natural wear and tear catching up to Tom are both high. That is something that no one can guarantee and Bill Belichick is thinking about it.
The acquisitions that the Patriots have made this offseason have also been rather un-ordinary for Belichick. He only made four draft selections in what was considered by many experts to be a deep draft. Instead, he chose to use New England’s draft picks to bring in experienced veterans like Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, and Mike Gillislee. He also made an unusual splash in free agency, with Stephon Gilmore receiving the highest contract ever given out under Bill Belichick. For the first time in a long time, it appears as if the Patriots are playing the short game. They seem to be loading up on veteran talent to make another Super Bowl run this season. In a way, this looks like Belichick is trying to give Brady the best team possible for a dominant farewell tour.
Finally, there is the Jimmy Garoppolo factor. Garoppolo is entering the final season of his contract, and will be up for free agency next spring. With the weak quarterback free agency class this offseason, the Patriots had the chance to get a significant return for Garoppolo, such as multiple first round picks from teams like the Cleveland Browns who are dying for a franchise QB. However, according to Adam Schefter, the Patriots never even considered trading Garoppolo. This is extremely telling for a number of reasons. Garoppolo’s trade value will never be higher than it was this offseason. He looked phenomenal in the six quarters he played in last season, and teams would have an entire year to evaluate him as a starter and 1) determine if he really is the future of their franchise and 2) use that entire year lock him up on a long-term deal to prevent him from hitting free agency next season. Despite all of this, the Patriots were not even close to trading him. If Bill Belichick was willing to give up the chance at multiple first round picks to keep Garoppolo here, it means that he considers Jimmy to be the real deal and a long term piece. That brings us to the 2018 offseason. The only way to keep Garoppolo around is to franchise tag him at a cost of somewhere around $20 million, or sign him to a long term deal for similar money. Should they keep Brady and Garoppolo, the Patriots would be putting $40 million of their cap space just on the quarterback position. While entirely possible, that seems extremely unlikely considering the way that Belichick has run this team for the past 17 years. So, why would Belichick give up the chance at multiple first round picks to a) let Garoppolo walk for nothing next season, or b) pay two quarterbacks nearly a quarter of the entire New England salary cap.
There are three possibilities here. The first is that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have already had the retirement discussion, and that they already know that this is Brady’s last season. This seems highly unlikely, as Brady has always said he wants to play as long as possible, and even just recently said in an ESPN interview that he would like to play until 45 years old if possible. The second option is that the Patriots cut Tom. Once again this seems unlikely because Bill would not receive anything from Brady’s departure. However, this does seem plausible because cutting Brady would allow him to choose where he would like to finish the remainder of his career. The third, and most likely option (in my opinion), is that Brady is traded. New England would be able to get a decent haul for Brady, and would be able to keep building for the future around Garoppolo.
Now there are a few arguments that New England fans would throw out. The first is that Tom Brady is not the same as the other players that Bill Belichick has shipped off early. That is absolutely true; Tom Brady is unlike any player who has ever played the game of football before. However, Bill Belichick has the team to worry about, not just one player. I think the only difference between Brady and those players in this situation is that Belichick has most likely been discussing the future with Brady throughout this offseason, whereas the other players were most likely blindsided. I think Belichick has enough respect for Brady to discuss his future with him. The other argument is that Bob Kraft would never let Bill Belichick get rid of Brady. However, at the owners meeting this offseason Kraft discussed how he leaves the football decisions up to Bill. As much as Kraft loves Brady, he will almost definitely defer to Bill’s decision.
This is a hard topic to consider, and it is still nearly a year away. However, I think it is better to think about it now, and understand that it is a possibility. Whether we like it or not, Tom Brady’s career is coming to a close. It is better to enjoy it while we can, rather than worrying about what the future will hold. Let’s leave that part to Bill.
Until next time- B$