Opinion: In ultimate Patriot move, Tom Brady exited New England before it was too late

It’s really happening. What once seemed unfathomable now becomes a reality. 

Tom Brady is leaving the New England Patriots.

At 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback brought social media to a screeching halt as he issued a lengthy letter to his fans, and announced, “I don’t know what my football future holds but it is time for me to open a new stage for my career.”

A second tweet began “FOREVER A PATRIOT” and went on to document warm thoughts of his time in New England and the relationships he built there over a 20-year span. 

“Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments,” the greatest quarterback of this generation — and arguably of all time — continued.

Now, Brady steps out into the unknown. 

The free agency market officially opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday, at which point Brady will have the freedom to sign with the team of his choosing, though he can agree to terms on a deal at any point before then with the negotiating period open. He was adamant in January that he wanted to continue playing. And teams like the Los Angeles Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are often linked to Brady. So it seems like we’ll see Brady slinging it for a 21st season in 2020, only in different colors. 

But as he said, he’ll always be a Patriot. Just like Michael Jordan is always a Chicago Bull despite two twilight seasons with the Washington Wizards.

It’s anyone’s guess what will go into Brady’s decision. But you can bet that he’ll carry it out with precise calculations, just as he has for the first 20 years of his career. 

He didn’t spend all those years in New England without learning something from Bill Belichick. Brady has always demonstrated an understanding of the importance of sacrificing for the greater good. That’s why he routinely took less than his worth when signing contract extensions to ensure that New England had the resources to give him a strong supporting cast. So don’t look for him to simply make a money grab.

Brady also has evidently learned the importance of timing. Rather than linger in Foxborough for one more season, he’s exiting now. 

Belichick and the Patriots made a habit of cutting ties with a player just before it’s too late. The coach and his staff have a knack for anticipating the drop-off a year before it comes, and they reload with a younger, more effective option, and keep rolling.

Now, it’s Brady pulling the plug before things get ugly in New England.

The Patriots’ cupboard of offensive weapons is rather bare, and defensive standouts Kyle Van Noy (agreed to deal with Miami Dolphins) and Jamie Collins (Detroit Lions) exited for greener pastures on Monday.

Brady is making his move before the Buffalo Bills, who already gave the Patriots a run for their money last season, and the Dolphins, who embarrassed New England in Week 17 and cost the squad the AFC’s No. 1 seed, both make significant strides and challenge for the long-held division crown.

Brady is leaving Belichick to deal with such humiliating incidents on his own.

And as it turns out, he foresaw this possibility some time ago. That’s why he turned down multiple extension offers last season and instead reworked his deal in August to ensure that he would have his freedom and complete control of his future this offseason.

Because Brady the Patriot is all we’ve ever known, we didn’t want to see it. Many believed he would flirt with other teams before flashing that “gotcha” smile and settling on a New England return.


Now, the world will watch with intrigue as Brady makes his decision. But what will it look like? Will the self-proclaimed “California kid” head West, taking on a Jordan-esque challenge of trying to breathe life into a floundering Chargers franchise that couldn’t get a stadium deal in San Diego, failed to fill out a soccer stadium in Carson, California, and now badly needs a jolt while co-opening a described “Football Mecca” with the Rams in Los Angeles?

He did just announce the launching of a Hollywood-based multi-platform content company, “199 Productions.”

Or will he head to the Sunshine State and team with coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who just guided Jameis Winston to a gaudy 5,109-yard season, to challenge Drew Brees and the Saints for NFC South supremacy? 

Is there another dark horse contender? 

Or, given his expression regarding the uncertainty of what the future holds, and the wording,“ open a new stage for my career,” could he potentially decide to hang up the cleats and join a broadcast booth and grace a television screen near you each week?

My money is on Brady remaining on the football field for now. He has long said that he wants to play until he’s 45, and multiple people within the league, speaking to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the matter is fluid, believe he could easily command a two-year, $70 million contract. He still has enough in the tank and still boasts one of the sharpest field-general minds in football.

So, this fall, as he did week after week in the Patriots’ blue, Brady should very fittingly run out of a tunnel onto his new home field to his signature walk-up song.

“Allow me to reintroduce myself,” Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” will boom over the sound system, and then we’ll all watch to see if Brady can still be Brady.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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