Sure, it’s not the most pressing (or depressing) news of the day, but at least it’s something new to discuss. Tom Brady offered an apparent valediction to New England Patriots fans, telling them he planned to start a “new stage for my life and career” that didn’t include the Pats or Pats Nation. He also gave a shout-out to Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization on Instagram, but left the distinct impression there as well that he wouldn’t be back:

View this post on Instagram

FOREVER A PATRIOT

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

It’s only slightly ambiguous what Brady’s saying, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter writes:

Free agency talks opened up yesterday, and Brady must have liked what he’s been hearing so far. Sports Illustrated reports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers have taken a keen interest in the Greatest of All Time:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers have made aggressive offers for Brady. The legal tampering period in the NFL began on Monday.

Despite making 14 Pro Bowls with the Patriots and winning six Super Bowls, Brady’s production has slipped in recent years. He threw for just 4,035 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2019. His completion percentage (60.8%) was also his lowest since 2013.

True, but it’s also true that Brady had the fewest real weapons around him since 2013, too. It’s tough to be a deep-threat, ball-control QB without more than one solid threat on the field to catch those passes. Philip Rivers is now out of Los Angeles and Jamies Winston has been a problem for Tampa Bay for some time, but neither team really has a lot of those weapons, either. If Brady wants to survive long enough to make the money worth it, those teams had better save some cash for their O-lines and receiver corps.

The Las Vegas Raiders were supposedly a Brady target, but they just picked up Marcus Mariota. With David Carr still on the roster, they won’t have room or money for Brady:

The Las Vegas Raiders have agreed to a deal with former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Mariota, 26, will presumably be No. 2 on the depth chart and will push starter Derek Carr.

Brady could still choose to retire, but he didn’t seem interested in that option before free agency, and he’s not likely to turn down his one and only big payday from it. ESPN recalls that Brady wants to play three more years, at least in his latest career planning:

Brady, 42, leaves New England with six Super Bowl rings and 41 playoff starts since 2001.

In recent years, Brady repeatedly said that his goal was to play until he was 45, but he and the Patriots couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension last offseason. That created a path for Brady to explore his options as a free agent, and after a 2019 season in which he showed visible frustration at times and the offensively-challenged Patriots uncharacteristically lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs, he told Westwood One radio that he was “open-minded about the process”.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who deferred to coach Bill Belichick in the negotiations, told NBC Sports he hoped Brady would play in New England or retire. Kraft, Belichick and Brady, widely seen as the three pillars of the Patriots’ unprecedented run of success since 2001.

That era has finally closed out, and what an era it was. It was the kind of dominance that free-agency and the draft were designed to prevent by providing parity to the NFL. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever see it again, but that’s part of the fun of playing the games. At the very least, Brady earned that Greatest of All Time title, and we had fun watching him do it — even if many of us were wailing and gnashing our teeth while he did. No matter where he lands, it’s a long shot that Brady can generate that kind of dominance in the time he has left, but he might have enough to take a more complete team to the Super Bowl. Never count him out.