Playing out Tom Brady’s free agency: Four offers, one winner and $60M guaranteed


Tom Brady has two regular-season MVPs, three first-team All-Pro appearances, four Super Bowl MVPs and six championship rings. One thing he has never done? Test NFL free agency. That changes next week, as the greatest quarterback of all time’s contract with the New England Patriots voids, allowing his agents to begin to negotiate with other teams at noon ET on March 16.

Which teams are really interested in the 42-year-old, and what could his contract look like? We asked NFL Nation reporters to make their best offer on behalf of the teams they cover.

We came up with four teams realistically in the running to sign Brady — including the Patriots, of course — and each has the need and cap space to sign him. All four are also attractive to Brady, who has spent all 20 years of his NFL career in one place. There are six other teams popularly linked with chasing Brady that our reporters believe will pass on him and pursue other options.

The offers below are based on what the reporters believe their teams could offer Brady. We then had national NFL writer Dan Graziano take on the role of Brady and pick the best offer. Check out his decision here.

Jump to the offers:
NE | LAC | TB | TEN | Verdict

Jump to teams likely to pass:

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The offers for Brady

Total years and value: Five for $125 million
Average per year: $25 million
Full guarantee at signing: $37.5 million
Total guarantee: $50 million
Three-year payout: $75 million (if option bonus is picked up)

Five years? Let me explain. Symbolism, strategy and salary-cap considerations are in play.

Start with the symbolism. Brady, 42, has said he hopes to play until he’s 45, but he and the Patriots haven’t been able to strike an extension the previous two years to get him to that point. That has meant a year-to-year setup.

Brady didn’t have leverage in those situations. He has more leverage now, which means if coach Bill Belichick still believes Brady gives the team the best chance to win — which seems to be the case — it could be time for to alter strategy and present a contract to Brady that represents how the organization believes he will reach his goal of playing at age 45.

A five-year pact does that. And the way it could be strategically structured would reinforce that belief, with salary-cap considerations in mind to benefit the team. That makes it a potential win-win scenario.

In essence, the first two years of the deal would be similar to what quarterback Drew Brees signed with the Saints before the 2018 season: $50 million over two years. That’s fair market value and a compromise — probably more than the Patriots would like to pay, but not as much as Brady could command elsewhere. It would commit the Patriots and Brady to each other through at least the 2021 season.

That would leave $75 million to account for over the final three years, which Brady might or might not have interest in playing. An option bonus prior to the third season (2022) could be picked up to activate the final three years, of which Brady might play one before retiring.

This type of deal also leaves valuable cap space for the team to surround Brady with better weapons, especially at tight end and receiver, where there’s a need for more speed. The Patriots are expected to aggressively pursue various possibilities in those areas, whether Brady is back or not. In addition to personnel help, Brady would also benefit from continuing to build on the system/foundation that has been created over the past 20 years, as opposed to starting fresh elsewhere. — Mike Reiss

Total years and value: Two for $64 million
Average per year: $32 million
Full guarantee at signing: $64 million
Total guarantee: $64 million
Two-year payout: $64 million

Kirk Cousins set the precedent for fully guaranteed contracts at the quarterback position two years ago, and in order to lure Brady out of New England the Chargers are going to have to sweeten the pot.

The Chargers have approximately $47 million in cap space. That does not include the roughly $5 million in additional cap space they will pick up once the player-for-player trade of left tackle Russell Okung to the Panthers for guard Trai Turner becomes official on March 18, the first day of the league year. The team also has the ability to shed about $11 million in cash with the potential retirement of veteran defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and by moving on from oft-injured linebacker Denzel Perryman, so the Chargers have the financial ability to bring Brady into the fold.

By signing Brady, however, the Chargers likely would have to address the offensive line with the No. 6 overall pick instead of drafting a signal-caller such as Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Utah State’s Jordan Love as the franchise quarterback of the future.

The Chargers have already re-signed breakout running back Austin Ekeler, but to appease Brady, they would also need to splash the cash to bring back tight end Hunter Henry, who is a free agent. They could also re-sign running back Melvin Gordon to complement Ekeler. The Chargers also have a high-dollar contract extension looming for talented defensive end Joey Bosa, who’s in the final year of his rookie deal. It would take some finagling to make the money work to keep everyone.

How could the Chargers appeal to the California native? They can offer the opportunity for a fresh start in Los Angeles, where his family has a home, and dynamic playmakers like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Ekeler at his disposal. He would also be a draw for fans in the newly built SoFi Stadium and help raise the team’s fledgling footprint in L.A. And if Brady can still play, the Chargers would once again be a Super Bowl contender. — Eric D. Williams

Total years and value: Three for $102 million
Average per year: $34 million
Full guarantee at signing: $68 million
Total guarantee: $68 million
Three-year payout: $102 million

Brady’s contracts in New England have historically been on the low end compared with those of his contemporaries, but the Bucs will have to pony up to compete. This offer is cut-and-dried. His $34 million average yearly salary puts him alongside Ben Roethlisberger for second-highest average in the league behind Russell Wilson. This offer isn’t longer than three years because Brady has said he wants to play until he’s 45. And signing Brady wouldn’t preclude the Bucs from re-signing pass-rusher Shaq Barrett or wide receiver Chris Godwin to long-term deals this offseason.

Winning isn’t what’s going to lure Brady to Tampa — it’s the idea of a challenge. The Bucs haven’t been to the postseason since 2007 and have put together two winning seasons in the past decade. But they have something Brady hasn’t enjoyed since 2011 (or 2009 if you’re talking strictly receivers not including Rob Gronkowski): two 1,100-yard Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Bucs have more than $81 million in cap space — fourth most in the NFL — to improve a roster that just went 7-9 with Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions. And there’s no state income tax, so it’s an ideal retirement destination.

Brady has also never had a head coach like Bruce Arians, who wants to drink beers in the parking lot after games (he’s still looking for a spot to do this). There might not be a more fun coach to play for than Arians.

The Bucs have negatives to overcome — their rushing attack isn’t as strong as the Titans’, for instance, and their defense is still young — but they could sell Brady on the promise of a high draft pick at offensive tackle (they own No. 14) since lack of protection has been an ongoing issue. They could sell themselves as a team that’s just a quarterback away from Super Bowl contention. — Jenna Laine

Total years and value: Four for $112 million
Average per year: $28 million
Full guarantee at signing: $56 million
Total guarantee: $60 million
Three-year payout: $81 million

Quarterbacks like Brady don’t hit the market often, and he could cash in. Giving Brady a four-year deal with half of the money guaranteed in the first two years of the deal, though, works for both parties.

If the Titans decide to part ways with Brady after two seasons, the deal essentially becomes two years, $56 million. If Brady decides he wants to play his age-45 season but do so elsewhere, he could force the Titans’ hand and it wouldn’t cost them much to release him.



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Brady’s contract would also leave room for the Titans — who have approximately $55 million of cap space to work with — to re-sign running back Derrick Henry, whose ability to dominate helps keep defenses honest and sets up one-on-one matchups for the receivers. The play-action passing game should be lethal for Brady and give him opportunities to take shots down the field. The Titans, however, probably could not afford to keep free-agent right tackle Jack Conklin. Brady isn’t the most fleet-footed quarterback, so general manager Jon Robinson would have to address the tackle position in the 2020 draft.

The Titans have attractive pass-catchers in tight end Jonnu Smith and wideouts A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries, whom the Patriots targeted in free agency last year, to appeal to Brady. Coming to Tennessee would connect Brady with a player in Humphries who has a high catch rate and has mastered the ability to find holes in coverage. Tennessee is also coached by former Brady teammate Mike Vrabel, and Brady and Vrabel still keep in touch.

The AFC South is wide open, which should appeal to Brady. The Titans present the best opportunity for him to cement his legacy by proving he can win a Super Bowl without Belichick. — Turron Davenport

The final decision from Brady

Looking at these four offers side by side, it’s a two-team race between the Bucs and the Titans. Money obviously isn’t everything to me at this point in my career, but you’ve got to at least get into the right ballpark if you want to compete.

I’ve loved everything about my time with the Patriots. Who wouldn’t? What we’ve accomplished there is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, no one can ever take it away from us, and good luck to anyone who wants to try to match what we’ve done over a 20-year span in a salary-cap league. I’ll spend the rest of my life watching in vain to see anyone catch me in Super Bowl wins, and I plan to live to at least 200.

However, Bill, your offer just isn’t respectful, man. I’ve always been willing to take the little hometown haircut to help with the cap, but the last couple of years you haven’t exactly used all that cap room to put together a real offense for me, so how do I trust that you’ll do it now? You’re offering $25 mil a year in a place with a state income tax while two non-state income tax states are offering $28 million and $34 million? Sorry, man. Been real. See you at all the reunions.

Chargers … you’re light, too. Especially while I’m looking at that 13.3% California state income tax rate. I’m a football player, not a mathematician, but I do have a calculator on my phone, and your $32 mil a year works out to about $27.7 million after taxes. Full guarantee is nice, but dude … I’m Tom Brady. I don’t need to be chasing Kirk Cousins‘ accomplishments.

So it’s Bucs or Titans, and hoo boy is that Tampa Bay offer a fat one. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Bruce Arians … sounds like a bunch of fun, especially at those numbers. I seriously considered it, and my agent thinks I’m nuts for turning it down, but in the end, as I said, money isn’t going to be the final deciding factor, and I’m not sure playing in Drew Brees‘ division gives me the clearest path to that playoff bye I’ve always loved so much.

Plus … Vrabes! My guy! We won the Super Bowl together as players, and now I’m going to go try to win one or two with him as my coach. The money’s solid, there is no state earned-income tax in Tennessee, and the Titans were in the AFC Championship Game less than two months ago. I love the A.J. Brown kid, and handing the ball off to Derrick Henry seems like the kind of thing that’ll help keep me healthy even if the coronavirus pandemic cleans the Nashville health food stores out of all their avocado ice cream. I’m saying goodbye to New England and hooking up with the last team that beat me. Titan Up! — Dan Graziano, playing the role of Brady and picking an offer

Teams likely to pass on Brady

These teams have been rumored to have interest in the free-agent quarterback, but our NFL Nation reporters explain why they won’t pursue him:

The pieces don’t add up for a Bears run at Brady. Is Brady better than Mitchell Trubisky? Of course. But Chicago has missed the playoffs eight of nine years. The Bears’ offense finished near the bottom in every important statistical category last season. The last great Bears quarterback was Sid Luckman, who played in the 1940s. General manager Ryan Pace has made it clear that Trubisky will be the starter in 2020, which means that rumblings of a Brady fit in Chicago don’t make sense.

“We believe in Mitch,” Pace said at the NFL combine. “Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him. And that’s our goal.” — Jeff Dickerson

During his tenure as the team’s chief football decision-maker, John Elway has proved plenty of times — see: Manning, Peyton — you can never say never when it comes to a veteran quarterback. Elway raised some eyebrows at the combine when he said this of Brady’s future: “Having gotten used to where he’s been for so long, I think just the change might be exciting for him, but I think it’s going to be a lot of work. … We’d always talk to him, but I think that we’re happy with what we have with Drew [Lock].”

The Broncos are committed to Lock, their second-year quarterback, having spent this offseason with the idea he will be their starter not only next season, but several seasons into the future. “The sky’s the limit for him,” Elway said. So while the Broncos will give plenty of consideration to adding a veteran quarterback, that veteran will be Lock’s backup. In Indy, Elway said the Broncos would “prefer” a veteran backup for Lock. — Jeff Legwold

Everything is on the table when it comes to the quarterback position with the Colts after Jacoby Brissett‘s struggles in 2019. And how good of a story would it be if Brady used the same locker as Peyton Manning, his longtime nemesis in the AFC, at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Andrew Luck‘s locker — and No. 12 jersey — at the team’s practice facility? A decision like that would put the Colts, who are projected to have around $87 million in cap space, back in the spotlight, where they have rarely been over the past five-plus years.

But signing Brady would significantly go against what general manager Chris Ballard has emphasized since the day he was hired in the winter of 2017. Ballard wants players still in the prime of their career or those who haven’t yet reached their potential when it comes to signing outside free agents. Brady, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, no longer fits in either category. — Mike Wells

Sure, Brady gives the Raiders some star power for their Las Vegas Strip engagement, but is he really that much of an upgrade from Derek Carr, who is coming off career highs in passing yards (4,054) and completion percentage (70.4%) and would be playing in, for the first time in his career, the same offense for the third straight year? The numbers would suggest not, even as right tackle Trent Brown, who played with Brady in 2018, said, “I mean, Tom is the GOAT; Derek Carr is Derek Carr,” in training camp.

Brady to the Raiders makes sense if, and only if, they cut ties with Carr, sign Brady to a two-year deal and draft their quarterback of the future (Jordan Love, anyone?) to learn at Brady’s knee. Otherwise, the Raiders would be wise to sit tight with Carr, get him a legit WR1 and see if he can take another statistical leap forward by extending plays with his legs and not throwing the ball away on fourth down.

Besides, as coach Jon Gruden said at the combine, “I love what Derek Carr did, love what he brings to our team and anxious to continue to build around him.” And when general manager Mike Mayock was asked about the nuances of Gruden’s offense, Mayock said, “We’ve [already] got a quarterback that runs Jon’s offense at a very high level.” — Paul Gutierrez

Owner Stephen Ross poured cold water on the Brady-to-Miami rumors during Super Bowl week: “We’re a team that is now rebuilding, and I don’t know why he’d really want to come to the Dolphins,” Ross said. “He’s been one of the fiercest competitors there is and we’re at the stage with the Dolphins trying to really build a team for the future.”

Coach Brian Flores agreed during the NFL combine, and beyond those words it really doesn’t make sense for Miami to pursue him. The money and location might be intriguing for Brady, but Miami is at least a year or two away from being a playoff contender, and it’s not the win-now candidate that would fit with Brady. — Cameron Wolfe

In a different world, the 49ers and Brady make plenty of sense as they were his childhood team and they’re built to contend for a Super Bowl title now. But the Niners are invested in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and have other, more pressing matters this offseason — such as keeping free agents Arik Armstead, safety Jimmie Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders and getting defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle signed to long-term contracts. Coach Kyle Shanahan believes Garoppolo is only going to get better as he gains more starting experience and general manager John Lynch has made it clear Garoppolo is still San Francisco’s man.

“We’re extremely proud of Jimmy and committed to Jimmy moving forward,” Lynch said at the NFL combine. “He’s our guy. As I said, from the day he walked into our building, he made us better and we continue to feel that’s the case. That’s the most exciting thing about him is the room for growth. He’s not come close to hitting his ceiling. I think the room for growth, the more experience he gets in this system, the more experience he gets playing in general, we think the arrow’s up, and that’s a good thing.” — Nick Wagoner

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