Tom Brady spent the last two decades as a New England Patriot. That streak won’t stretch into the 2020s.
The six-time Super Bowl winner announced on Instagram he won’t be returning to the Patriots for the upcoming season. Instead, the pending free agent will play his 21st season in the NFL elsewhere — though where he’ll spend 2020 remains a mystery.
This spring marked the first time in his NFL career Brady hit the open market as a free agent. It appears the soon-to-be 43-year-old will take full advantage of his freedom.
Brady’s social media posts may mark the end of an era in New England, but still leave several questions to be answered. His statement just says his “football journey will take place elsewhere.” While that doesn’t entirely shut the door on a possible return to Bill Belichick’s stable, this is as clear a breakup letter as can be.
So why would Brady want to part ways with the only franchise he’s ever known as he ventures toward his mid-40s? His two-part statement didn’t say, but based on varying reports that span the last five seasons, there are a few factors that may have played a role.
1. The Patriots couldn’t offer much receiving help
Rob Gronkowski retired before the 2019 season. Josh Gordon was injured, then released, and then eventually suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Antonio Brown’s tenure in New England lasted one game.
All this led to a vacuum of talent downfield and contributed to one of Brady’s least efficient seasons. Julian Edelman was his typically useful self, but the rest of the receiving corps couldn’t keep up. Belichick spent a 2019 first-round pick on N’Keal Harry and traded a 2020 second-rounder to the Falcons for Mohamed Sanu. Both struggled through injuries and the adjustment to the Patriot passing game. They combined for 38 catches (on 71 targets) and 312 yards in 15 games between them.
Somehow, that was roughly as productive as the club’s ENTIRE post-Gronk TE corps. Four players — Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, and Eric Tomlinson — teamed up for 37 receptions last fall.
Leaving New England frees Brady to pair with the kind of wideouts and tight ends who can help revive his career. The Buccaneers can offer him quite possibly the league’s top 1-2 punch between Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Chargers have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Colts — yes, his former arch rival — could provide the services of T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle if so inclined.
No matter where Brady goes, he’ll almost certainly end up with an upgrade when it comes to whomever’s catching his passes.
2. The Patriots may have been unwilling to match his asking price
Brady had suitors in free agency. The Buccaneers, Raiders, and Chargers were all rumored to be pitching him. Tampa Bay, in particular, is primed to offer the massive contract and supporting cast New England could not.
Reports that swirled around the Patriots’ camp, however, mostly suggested Belichick was reticent to make a top-of-the-market offer to retain the two-time MVP. One local source said the team was only willing to give him a one-year deal. Others suggested that while it was willing to top $30 million per year in compensation, New England wouldn’t offer the same three- or four-year contract length other teams may have brought to the bargaining table. That last part may have been the sticking point for an aging, but still above-average QB facing an uncertain future.
Brady reportedly made it clear he wasn’t going to take a hometown discount to stay with the Patriots in 2020. Recent signings in Las Vegas (Marcus Mariota) and Tennessee (Ryan Tannehill) may have narrowed down his list of interested franchise — though don’t count out the Raiders yet. Still, appears there’s still at least one team eager enough to bring the legendary quarterback to town that it would dole out top-shelf money to keep him under contract through his age-45 season.
3. He may just want a change of scenery
Brady thrived as the main gear in the Patriots machine, but 20 years is a long time to stay at any job. He began distancing himself from New England in 2019 by putting his Brookline, Mass. estate on the market. It’s possible he just wants to try something new before he puts an end to his NFL career.
The aging QB thrived under the rigors of Belichick’s system. That makes sense — one look at his diet suggests his management and preparation border on obsessive. But that constant grind generated friction between Brady and his coaches. ESPN famously detailed a potential rift that had grown between the lauded quarterback, Belichick, and even offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Although Belichick and owner Robert Kraft were effusive in their praise for Brady after his Instagram post went live, it’s entirely possible the 42-year-old wants to see how the other half lives. To link up with a coordinator who may be more receptive to his sideline critiques. To go to a team whose practices don’t end with sprints up a big-ass hill.
And maybe, just maybe, to prove he’s capable of winning without Belichick at the helm.
4. He’s creating a new franchise for his brand
Brady is a revered character in New England and a bonafide legend. He’s worked hard to extend his impact off the field, be it through endorsements, acting gigs (well, if playing “Tom Brady” counts as acting), a newly founded production company, and his wellness brand.
While the Patriots didn’t seem to have an issue with the first two, Brady’s TB12 Sports startup has been a contentious point between the QB and his team. There have been multiple instances where Brady’s personal trainer Alex Guerrero has clashed with team trainers when it comes to recovery plans for both the quarterback and other members of the New England roster. Guerrero even lost clubhouse privileges with the franchise back in 2017, leading Belichick to clearly state he was “not a member of the organization.”
If Brady wants to build that brand, he may seek out a new employer willing to welcome Guerrero in a way the Patriots did not. After writing a New York Times best-seller on fitness, wellness, and flexibility, “lifestyle guru” may be the clearest, most lucrative career path once Touchdown Tom stops throwing touchdowns.
He knows he can strengthen that brand by proving he’s still a spry quarterback in his 40s. If he believes Guerrero is the key to that longevity he may find a landing spot where the occasionally controversial, holistic medicine devotee is welcomed rather than cast aside.
It’s not entirely clear why Brady is leaving the Patriots after two decades, but there are a few looming reasons that likely factored into his decision.
Cash and contracts may play a role, but Brady’s earned more than $235 million in his playing career alone. His wife, international supermodel Gisele Bundchen, “earns a lot of money” in Brady’s words — perhaps even more than he does.
It’s possible he wants to feel a new wave of respect and adulation somewhere else, all the while knowing he’ll be a hero in New England no matter what his next steps on the field are. Maybe he feels like he has something to prove when it comes to winning a battle against time, and he needs his trusted trainer to have 100 percent access to his gridiron future. Or maybe he’s just tired of the grind and wants a senioritis victory lap that comes with $60 million guaranteed.
All are good reasons, and we may never truly know what combination of factors led Brady to this decision. All we know is that he’s not coming back to the New England Patriots.