Twenty years, nine Super Bowl appearances, six Super Bowl wins – Tom Brady has led the New England Patriots to an unprecedented period of success.
But are we about to witness the end of an era? For the first time in his NFL career, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time has just become a free agent.
From Monday (16:00 GMT), the 42-year-old was free to talk to other teams. They can enter contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents, like Brady, before the free agency signing period begins on Wednesday (20:00 GMT).
Brady might still stay with the Patriots, but if he does go, it could spark a chain reaction with more quarterbacks swapping clubs in the off-season than ever before.
It is a chance for Brady to see what other clubs will offer – and for the Patriots to see who they could sign to replace him.
Fans and media have been analysing Brady’s every move for a hint as to whether he will stay or go. And if he does go, where is he most likely to end up?
Will Brady stay with the Patriots?
Since the Patriots’ early play-off exit last season, Brady has been cage-side for Conor McGregor’s latest fight in Las Vegas, announced plans to move into Hollywood and attended a college basketball game with team-mate Julian Edelman.
And the latter really got the rumour mill turning. While on camera, Edelman said “he’s coming back”. Brady shot him an awkward glance and shook his head before forcing out a reply which was unclear. Some claim Brady said “he’s not”, others say it was “he’s got it”. Or was it just “this guy”? Only he knows.
The pair were also seen Facetiming former Patriot Mike Vrabel, who just so happens to be the current Tennessee Titans coach.
Edelman is certainly doing all he can to keep his good friend in New England. Not only has he started a #StayTom campaign on social media, he’s even selling ‘Stay Tom’ merchandise and left some of those T-shirts in the Boston Celtics’ locker room.
It is thought that if the Patriots can ensure Brady has better players around him in 2020, it will be enough to convince him to commit to a 21st season. However, a recent phone conversation between Brady and coach Bill Belichick reportedly “wasn’t particularly productive”.
Where could Brady go?
One place Brady will not be going is New Orleans. Drew Brees, the only man with more all-time passing yards and touchdown passes than Brady, has confirmed he will stay with the Saints, whose back-up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is now a free agent.
But the Los Angeles Chargers need a new QB with veteran Philip Rivers leaving, while Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has named Brady as a potential target after Jameis Winston became the first man to go 30 for 30 – throwing 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.
The Raiders are relocating from Oakland to Vegas and may consider trading Derek Carr in favour of a big name to help fill their new 65,000-seater stadium and create a buzz around Sin City.
Tennessee was touted as a possible destination until Ryan Tannehill, who took the Titans to within one game of the Super Bowl after becoming the starter mid-season, signed an extension on Sunday.
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Who would replace Brady?
Rivers and Winston are both free agents, and Andy Dalton could be made available too. The Cincinnati Bengals have this year’s first draft pick and are expected to choose highly-rated QB Joe Burrow, allowing Dalton to move on.
Surprisingly, the San Francisco 49ers, who were less than three minutes from winning Super Bowl 54, have emerged as a potential suitor for Brady. It’s been rumoured that Brady’s boyhood club are interested in bringing him home to California and trading his former back-up Jimmy Garoppolo back to the Patriots.
And the likes of Cam Newton, Joe Flacco and Nick Foles, who have all led teams to the Super Bowl in the last seven years, may also be given the chance to start afresh after poor form and injuries. The speculation is just getting started.
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