Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots.
Where is he going? To be decided, but the NFL will never look the same.
Brady, 42, announced via social media on Tuesday morning that he is finished in New England after 20 seasons, six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances and three MVPs.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Brady wrote, “but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career.”
Unless Brady has a trick up his sleeve – anything is possible now – his market is headed by the Buccaneers and Chargers, two teams who finished well out of the playoff race last season.
NFL Network reported both teams made “strong offers” to Brady, “believed to be” in excess of $30 million per year.
“Tommy initiated contact last night & came over. We had a positive, respectful discussion. It’s not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft told ESPN. “After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son”
Even with the genius of Bill Belichick stalking the sidelines, it is difficult to see this as anything but the end of the Patriots dynasty. The Patriots won 16 of the last 17 AFC East titles, only missing out during the season Brady missed all but one game due to injury.
The Patriots were led by Matt Cassel and did win 11 games while missing the playoffs then. Now? Second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham is atop the depth chart, but free agent Teddy Bridgewater and trade candidates Andy Dalton make the most sense to fill the enormous shoes.
Brady released two statements: One thanking all his teammates, coaches, executives, Kraft and staff for “the daily commitment to winning and creating a culture built on great values,” and a second just for the fans.
“The support has been overwhelming,” Brady wrote. “I wish every player could experience it. … I will always love you and what we have shared – a lifetime of fun memories.”
The smoke around Brady’s departure began last offseason when he struck an agreement with the team that he could not be franchise tagged and would be allowed to enter the open market for the first time in his career. It only increased as the season progressed and became a full-fledged fire within the last few weeks.
The Patriots kept a place for Brady if he wanted to return, but it appears the Greatest of All-Time wants to prove he can do it without Belichick, maybe feeling slighted that he hasn’t been paid as much or appreciated as much as other quarterbacks of his ilk.
The landscape of the NFL changes, as the Jets, bank-breaking Dolphins and surging Bills all must feel like there is a chance again. And the Chiefs and Ravens no longer have to fear an AFC playoffs path running through Foxborough, Mass.
Who has a resolution first? The Patriots with their new quarterback, or Brady with his new uniform?
Free agents can’t officially change teams until Wednesday, though dozens of agreements pending physicals are in place.
So, the madness is just getting started.