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Why the Tom Brady free agent rumors aren’t going away just yet

Tom Brady can enjoy free agency and the attention he’s getting from other teams, even if he will still probably re-sign with the Patriots.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady just wants some love, folks. He wants to know he’s appreciated. Like all of us in a long-term relationship, we take for granted the best parts of the relationship. We do not praise and give thanks to our partners enough. This seems to be happening in New England between Brady and Bill Belichick.

Brady is heading toward unrestricted free agency for the first time in his storied career. Drafted in 2000 by the Patriots, Brady has re-signed with the team before hitting free agency for the last 20 seasons. It’s been a remarkable run, filled with six Super Bowl wins and the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport.

But, it could be coming to an end when free agency opens up March 18.

The rumors about Brady signing with a new team just won’t stop

There’s a new free agent rumor about Brady almost every day. Most recently, there’s been speculation about Brady signing with the San Francisco 49ers. That would be a slam dunk for Brady. The 49ers are his hometown team, they have great coaching, an outstanding defense, aren’t too reliant on the passing game to win, and have a good offensive line and weapons. (It just wouldn’t make much sense for the 49ers.)

The 49ers aren’t the only talked-about destination, however. The Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts would all be possible fits. There are also people who have put money on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a landing spot. Even UFC president Dana White put out an Instagram Live video of him calling Brady to pitch the city of Las Vegas and the Raiders.

Brady is the first piece in the free agency puzzle. If he leaves New England, then free agency is drastically altered. For starters, the Patriots would need to find a quarterback. Do they rebuild through the draft? Do they trade for Andy Dalton? Sign another free agent quarterback?

Let’s say Brady ends up in Tennessee. Well, then Ryan Tannehill would need to find a new home outside of the Titans. What happens to the teams that don’t land Brady? Do they try to get Tannehill or Philip Rivers as a consolation prize?

Still, I do not believe Brady is leaving. He’s pledged to not take any free agency visits, which signals to me he’s not serious about other teams. Brady is 42, has played for the same team his entire career, and has built his legacy in New England. Why would he play anywhere else?

More than that, Brady knows all eyes are on him.

Why haven’t the Patriots and Brady made progress on a new deal?

Being a highly regarded free agent is awesome. For months, people discuss where you might end up. Franchises attempt to convince you to join them. Media outlets invite you for appearances and you get everyone telling you for months how amazing you are.

For an offensive lineman like myself, free agency was the first time I’d gotten this attention. Brady has had attention for years, but never like this. Never has Brady had people so fixated on his every move — every word in public, every quick look, every story leaked about his interest in other teams. Fans that have never liked him are rooting for their teams to sign him. This process is intoxicating, even for someone like Brady.

I believe the reason why Brady isn’t doing anything to discourage speculation is that he wants two things from the Patriots.

One is a multiyear contract. If teams appear to be interested in him or vice versa, the Patriots might be more inclined to give in on that deal. I think contract length, and not money, could hold up a deal between him and New England. The current CBA negotiations are another reason that talks between Brady and the Patriots haven’t progressed yet.

Second, I believe he wants Belichick, who apparently spoke with Brady recently, to tell him he’s valued. I think Brady would like to hear Belichick say that working together with him is enjoyable and that Brady can be part of the process of adding weapons to this team for another championship run. If the interest in Brady ramps up through media reports and sightings at basketball games where he’s FaceTiming opposing coaches, maybe this will get the notorious businesslike Belichick to show him the love.

The Patriots can show Brady the love in another way: via a three-year contract that would prove both the team and Belichick are committed to Brady until he retires. This is still the most logical outcome.

For now, Brady can enjoy the attention he’s getting on the free agent market for the first time in his career. Going back to New England, with the reliable coaching staff, a chance to win, and a comfortable, familiar environment always made the most sense. And maybe all it would take to end the drama is a phone call from Belichick telling Brady he needs him.