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INDIANAPOLIS — The hardest part of finding a quarterback for Mike Zimmer?

Not wanting to regret his decision.

Less than two weeks ahead of free agency, with nothing but speculation on what the Minnesota Vikings might do at quarterback in 2018 and beyond, Zimmer noted the challenges of going through the process to find the right fit.

On March 14, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are slated to become free agents. All three are “definitely” options to consider, according to Zimmer. Finding a quarterback in free agency or through the draft are also possibilities.

But picking the wrong one? That’s Zimmer’s trepidation.

“If you go with the right one and he does like you anticipate, then everything is good,” Zimmer said. “If you pick the wrong one, it’s hard to win in this league without a quarterback. If you pick the wrong one, this whole thing can go downhill.”

The Vikings coach later followed up in his second media session at the NFL scouting combine with exactly what’s at stake if Minnesota doesn’t nail this crucial decision.

“It’s important for myself and [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and the organization to pick the right guy that is going to help us continue to move forward,” Zimmer said. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably be fired.”

Zimmer noted money as one of the primary areas of concern in the Vikings’ process of determining whom they will sign. The decision could cost the Vikings upward of $28 million to $30 million per year if they enter the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes in free agency. That figure might be lower if the Vikings stick with one of their current quarterbacks, but Zimmer does not want to sacrifice their strength, a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league in the regular season and allowed them to win close games. Overpaying for a quarterback could lead to an inability to grant contract extensions and bring in pieces to bolster the unit.

“If you pick the wrong one, this whole thing can go downhill.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer

Zimmer said the reason the team has won 39 games since 2014 is “not because we’ve had this one guy or that one guy. Let’s make sure we keep understanding the team is why we have done good things.

“You just have to pick out the right [quarterback] that’s going to help your football team the best. And where you can still do things at other positions. You don’t want to go crazy here.”

Zimmer praised all three Vikings quarterbacks for their contributions but pointed out the uncertainty with each option. Keenum posted a career-high passer rating (98.4) and led Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game in 2017. The small sample size Minnesota has to work with in determining whether Keenum can replicate his success from last season remains the biggest question.

“We think he can,” Zimmer said. “It’s just kind of guessing. Is he the guy when he was at Houston or the Rams, or is he the guy who played for us? Is it because he had a good team around him? Bradford, his record wasn’t great; is it because he didn’t have a good team around him? Did he play with a good defense? All those things enter into it. All those factor into it. At the end of the day, it’s a guess and a hunch.”

With Bradford, Zimmer said nothing medically concerns him about the quarterback’s knee but called his injury issues “degenerative.” The 30-year-old quarterback, whom Minnesota had on the books for $18 million in 2017, played in six quarters last season. He suffered a noncontact injury to his left knee during an electric performance in Week 1.

Zimmer said tight end Kyle Rudolph and Bradford went skiing last week. Rudolph told KFAN that he underwent surgery recently on his right ankle, which he injured during a game at Carolina.

Whether Bradford can stay healthy is Zimmer’s chief concern.

“It’s his history of being hurt,” Zimmer said. “That’s the monkey wrench in the whole thing. Can you believe he’s going to play the 15 games he did two years ago or he’s going to play the one game where he hit the turf this year? That’s the big dilemma.”

One season removed from the gruesome knee injury he sustained at the end of the preseason, Bridgewater’s sample size also poses challenges for the Vikings. The two passes he threw in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals marked the only game action he saw in 2017. One day after the Vikings’ loss at Philadelphia in January, Bridgewater said he “definitely” wants to be a starter next season. Whether he can return to his 2014-15 form remains in question.

“I’d love to see him more,” Zimmer said. “In practice, he did some really good things. Sometimes scout-team quarterbacks and the scout-team corner are kind of the same way; there’s no fear if they throw an interception or get beat on a pass. It’s not a big deal because the crowd’s not going to jeer them, they’re not going to get written up by you guys saying they suck. You can make mistakes in practice by just doing whatever you want to do and not having that affect you. So it’s really hard to evaluate just in practice.

“We have to go back a lot with Teddy on what he’s done in the past, him as a person, his work ethic, all those things. Him not playing for two years and not being able to see him play in live situations, that’s concerning a little bit. But I love the guy. He’s a great kid, great competitor, a winner.”

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NFL free agency 2021 – Biggest upcoming player decision for all 32 teams

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The 2020 NFL playoffs are down to the top four teams heading into championship weekend. However, that also means that 28 other teams have begun their offseasons. Ahead of them looms free agency and the 2021 NFL draft to help shore up weaknesses and holes in their rosters.

There are several teams that just hired new general managers and head coaches who are eager to get to rebuilding their teams, while others who fell just short in the postseason are asking themselves how they can get over the hump.

With that in mind, we asked our NFL Nation reporters to identify the top looming free-agent decision each organization has to make and how likely each is to part ways with the player:

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

Offensive tackle Daryl Williams. The addition of Williams this offseason helped the Bills feel comfortable moving second-year lineman Cody Ford to guard to start the season. Williams has been a rock in his best season since being named second-team All-Pro in 2017. However, with Jon Feliciano and Matt Milano arguably taking precedence over Williams among the Bills’ free agents, Williams might have played himself into a contract that Buffalo can no longer afford — especially with the salary cap projected to shrink and Josh Allen commanding an even larger deal than previously expected. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dolphins GM Chris Grier publicly committed to Tua Tagovailoa as the 2021 starting quarterback, but head coach Brian Flores was noncommittal when asked if Fitzpatrick would return as a backup, citing the need for a full roster evaluation. Fitzpatrick, 38, will have a decision on whether to retire, but he played well in his two seasons with the Dolphins, transitioning them from rebuilding to contending, so he likely will be offered a notable free-agent contract from another team. If he keeps playing, the expectation is Fitzpatrick will move on to a team that provides him a chance to be a bridge starting quarterback or compete for a starting job. The Dolphins would need to sign and/or draft another backup quarterback. — Cameron Wolfe


Center David Andrews. There are a lot of other notable choices — quarterback Cam Newton, guard Joe Thuney and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy among them — but Andrews gets the nod as a four-time captain and heart-and-soul member of the organization on and off the field. He sets the protection at the line of scrimmage and thus will be a critical extension to whoever is lining up at quarterback, which is another huge question for the Patriots. That’s why the odds seem higher they will work hard to re-sign him. — Mike Reiss


Safety Marcus Maye. The Jets are on record as saying they want to re-sign Maye, their team MVP. Of course, they said the same thing about wide receiver Robby Anderson (he bolted as a free agent) and safety Jamal Adams (traded). So you never know. Maye is a steady, if not stellar, player who is in line for a big payday ($8 million to $10 million-a-year range). This is just his second contract, but he will be 28 for the season. The front office likes his intangibles, and he should be a good fit in Robert Saleh’s zone-based scheme. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Pass-rusher Matthew Judon or Yannick Ngakoue. The Ravens have to decide which free-agent outside linebacker to invest in. Judon is the more all-around linebacker, and Ngakoue is considered the better pure rusher. Baltimore has tried to get an extension with Judon, but he has been seeking a contract worth $20 million per season, according to a source. The Ravens could put the franchise tag on Ngakoue, but he’s been a disappointment since they traded a third-round pick for him in October. Ngakoue played just 20 snaps in Baltimore’s playoff loss, which suggests he might not be in the team’s long-term plans. Four of the Ravens’ five outside linebackers are pending free agents: Judon, Ngakoue, Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser. — Jamison Hensley


Defensive end Carl Lawson. Lawson might not have had big sack numbers, but he created 10.5 sacks in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen. The Bengals would be wise to try to give Lawson a long-term deal. But the big question will be whether Lawson will want to stay in Cincinnati or go to a place where he might be more likely to get sacks. — Ben Baby


Wide receiver Rashard Higgins. The Browns brought Higgins back on a one-year deal from last season, with Mayfield helping convince Higgins to re-sign. Higgins, in turn, has been a huge part of Baker Mayfield‘s resurgence since taking over for the injured Odell Beckham Jr. in the starting lineup in Week 7. The Browns have a lot of money committed at wide receiver, in OBJ and Jarvis Landry. But given Higgins’ rapport with Mayfield, it seems prudent for Cleveland to get a multiyear deal done. — Jake Trotter


Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Ben Roethlisberger wants him back. Smith-Schuster wants to be back. But the Steelers rarely give second contracts to wide receivers, the only two going to Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster was an indispensable member of the offense — especially for his gritty yards after catch and dependability on third downs, but history isn’t on his side. Neither is the salary cap. To re-sign Smith-Schuster, the Steelers will have to pull off more cap wizardry, a trick made even more difficult by Roethlisberger’s $41.2 million cap hit. All of that suggests the Steelers let him walk and rely on Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington to be the future at the position. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Wide receiver Will Fuller. The wide receiver, playing on his fifth-year option, was setting himself up for a huge new contract before he was suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Even with the suspension, Fuller might still get a big deal, and it could come from Houston. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson said in December, after the receiver was suspended, that it’s “very important” that Fuller is back. The Texans, of course, still are navigating Watson’s frustration with their search for a general manager, but re-signing Fuller could be a way to keep Watson in Houston. — Sarah Barshop


Quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has told the Colts that he’s “not 100% sure” he wants to play an 18th NFL season. The two sides will take the next month to decide which direction to go. The Colts want Rivers, 39, but they aren’t going to sit back and wait on him to make up his mind. They’ll be evaluating quarterbacks around the league and continue scouting potential draft picks. If Rivers does not return, the Colts could have their third different starting quarterback in as many seasons, because Jacoby Brissett is heading into free agency. — Mike Wells


Offensive tackle Cam Robinson. He was up-and-down in pass protection this season and hasn’t become the dominant player the Jags envisioned when they drafted him in the second round in 2017. He did deal with a torn ACL in 2018, but that shouldn’t have been an issue in 2020. Do the Jags want an inconsistent player protecting Trevor Lawrence’s blind side or will they try to upgrade in free agency or the draft? — Mike DiRocco


Wide receiver Corey Davis. The Titans finally had a potent 1-2 punch at wide receiver last season. Davis took advantage of coverage that focused mostly on A.J. Brown. The chemistry that Davis developed with Ryan Tannehill yielded a 70% catch rate and single-season career highs in yards (984) and touchdowns (five). It’s going to be pricey, but the Titans will figure out how to bring Davis back. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Safety Justin Simmons. This is near the top of newly hired general manager George Paton’s to-do list. Inside the locker room, many of Simmons’ teammates wonder what, exactly, a guy has to do to get re-signed. Simmons has played every snap of the last three seasons, he’s been named to a Pro Bowl and been a second-team All-Pro selection over those three seasons. He is one of the Broncos’ most active players in the community and was the Broncos’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2020. Certainly the Broncos could place the franchise tag on him once again, as they did this past season, but a new deal keeps one of the best players in house and shows the team is interested in rewarding effort. Yes, the deal has to make sense for the Broncos, but not re-signing Simmons will cause many of his teammates to think, “If he can’t get a new deal from the Broncos, how will I?” — Jeff Legwold


Wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins hasn’t posted great numbers since joining the Chiefs in 2018 but the offense has been more productive when he’s in the lineup than when he’s not. The Chiefs don’t appear to have his replacement on their roster as a No. 2 wide receiver. It’s difficult to picture the Chiefs being able to afford Watkins again, given a tight salary-cap situation. But both sides were motivated to get a deal done last year, when Watkins agreed to a reduced contract in order to remain with the team. — Adam Teicher


Offensive lineman Denzelle Good. Yeah, receiver Nelson Agholor had a career year with 896 receiving yards, an 18.7 yards-per-catch average and eight touchdowns. But with the Raiders likely needing to slash salary to get under the cap, Agholor might command more than they can afford. Good, meanwhile, was the Raiders’ do-everything man on the O-line, filling in admirably at both right tackle and left guard. And with huge question marks surrounding right tackle Trent Brown and left guard Richie Incognito, Good probably is the smarter call here. After all, both coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr said Good was the team’s unsung hero and team MVP last year. — Paul Gutierrez


Tight end Hunter Henry. The 26-year-old been solid, but his injuries are confusing things for both sides. The Chargers thought he would make it through the season, but he missed the last two games. Henry is a valuable tight end for the Chargers, and they will try to keep him. But he could have many suitors. — Shelley Smith

NFC EAST

Quarterback Dak Prescott. No, this is not a copy-and-paste from last year. He remains the signature piece to the offseason plans. The Cowboys want to sign him to a long-term deal, but they also wanted to do that in 2019 and ’20. If they can’t get a long-term deal, then they will place the franchise tag on him again at a cost of $37.7 million. With the tag or a long-term deal, Prescott’s contract will chew up a good portion of the cap space, and that will affect Dallas’ ability to lure free agents or keep players currently under contract. Perhaps this time the Cowboys and Prescott’s agent, Todd France, will actually have real negotiations before the mid-June deadline if he is tagged again. — Todd Archer

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Damien Woody explains that the Cowboys have the worst offense in the NFL since Dak Prescott has been out and says it’s time to change things up in Dallas.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He played this season on the franchise tag ($16.1 million) and had a monster year with 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits, which was third in the NFL. That said, to sign him long term will be costly. How much are the Giants willing to pay? How much will Williams want? He has been insistent that money is not his top priority. Still, he will be costly, and the Giants can’t afford to lose him. No one else had more than four sacks. The Giants need to add pass-rushers, not subtract them. — Jordan Raanan


Defensive back Jalen Mills. He moved from corner to safety in 2020 and improved along the way. He was a starting corner on their 2017 championship defense and has been a locker room leader, but the new defensive coordinator will have to decide if he’s a system fit. — Tim McManus


Guard Brandon Scherff. He played on the franchise tag this season en route to becoming the first Washington player to be named first-team All-Pro since punter Matt Turk in 1996. There was some thought last offseason among those who know Scherff that he might not want to commit here long term, but after coach Ron Rivera’s first season, Scherff seemed enthused about returning, saying he “absolutely” wanted to come back. Rivera wants to build strong lines, and if that’s the case Scherff must be retained. In November 2019, Philadelphia made three-time Pro Bowler Brandon Brooks the highest-paid guard with a four-year deal worth $54.2 million. It makes sense if Scherff’s deal is close to this figure. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Wide receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson set a career high with 102 receptions last year, but the Bears have been reluctant to pay the 27-year-old receiver top dollar. Contract talks between the Bears and Robinson’s agent went nowhere during the season. The Bears value Robinson but seem content to let the veteran wideout test the market instead of paying him top-five-receiver money. Chicago could use the franchise tag, but that seems unlikely given the expected decrease in the league’s salary cap. The Bears are bracing for the real possibility that Robinson leaves via free agency. — Jeff Dickerson


Wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The Lions didn’t get a deal done with him in-season and now the question for the new regime is whether to franchise-tag him, sign him to a long-term deal or let him walk in free agency. The most plausible solution here could be to tag Golladay to buy time to either A) work out a long-term deal once they figure out how a barren receiver room might be constructed or B) seek potential trade partners if he’s not part of the long-term plan, similar to what the Texans did with Jadeveon Clowney and the Jaguars did with Ngakoue last offseason. It’s also possible Golladay plays for Detroit in 2021 and the sides figure out something from there, but it’s tough to see the club completely letting him walk considering the 27-year-old’s talent and age. — Michael Rothstein


Running back Aaron Jones. The Packers had a deal on the table that would have made Jones among the top five highest-paid backs in the league, but that was in terms of average per year. The big guaranteed money was missing. So Jones turned it down and then opted to change agents, hiring Drew Rosenhaus. The Packers continue to see how valuable Jones is — just look at his 60-yard run to open the second half of the playoff game against the Rams — but it’s hard to imagine them upping their guaranteed money, especially if they want to re-sign All Pro center Corey Linsley. Perhaps the decision already has been made to let him go — or least hit the market — but it couldn’t have been an easy one. — Rob Demovsky


Linebacker Eric Wilson. The Vikings’ biggest offseason roster decisions center around the likes of Kyle Rudolph and Riley Reiff, both of whom are under contract for 2021 but whose futures in Minnesota are up in the air in part because of the need to create salary-cap space. Wilson, however, could soon be hitting the open market after putting together a strong season in which he played every defensive snap following an injury to Anthony Barr in the first quarter of Week 2. Minnesota can’t afford to keep three linebackers on the roster with how much Barr ($12.3 million) and Eric Kendricks ($8.15 million) are set to make in 2021. But the team must decide whether it can keep Wilson and potentially execute a trade for Barr or move on from the Pro Bowl linebacker. Given the financial implications (dead money), that seems unlikely. And if Wilson can command a $9 million-$10 million salary in free agency, there’s a high likelihood he ends up elsewhere. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Kicker Younghoe Koo. Safety Keanu Neal is a high priority, too, but having a reliable kicker is so valuable and impacts the way the game is called. He’s coming off by far the best year of his career (37 of 39 field goals made), and if the Falcons can lock him down for reasonable money, that’ll be one area new coach Arthur Smith won’t have to worry about. — Mike DiRocco


Offensive tackle Taylor Moton. One could argue wide receiver Curtis Samuel here, but the Panthers don’t have enough cap room to sign both. They need Moton to anchor the right side of the line as they search for a franchise left tackle. Samuel is a nice piece to have, but they can replace him with a healthy Christian McCaffrey and a cheaper free agent or draft pick. — David Newton


Defensive end Trey Hendrickson. The Saints have a lot of big decisions to make, including whether they want to bring back Jameis Winston as a starting quarterback candidate and make expensive long-term commitments to 2022 free agents such as Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, Marshon Lattimore and Taysom Hill. But Hendrickson is the most fascinating 2021 free agent. It will be interesting to see how the Saints and the rest of the NFL value him after an unexpected breakout season with 13.5 sacks that probably priced him out of New Orleans. — Mike Triplett


Offensive tackle Donovan Smith. Smith won’t be a free agent in 2021, but in 2022. However, 2021 is when the guaranteed money is up in his contract, which has him slated to make $14.25 million next year. He’s had an up-and-down career, but he did turn in one of his best performances in the wild-card round against Chase Young. Still, with the success Tristan Wirfs had as a rookie right tackle, might the Bucs be looking to turn the page, especially when they have several key players becoming free agents in Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Ndamukong Suh? — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals’ fifth-overall pick in 2011 has played his entire career with Arizona and has been a model and elite cornerback. He made eight straight Pro Bowls to start his career but began a slight decline in 2019 when he was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Ever since, receivers are catching more passes against him and Peterson hasn’t been the lockdown corner he was earlier in his career. At 30, he wants another big deal — like the extension he received in 2014 — but the Cardinals didn’t commit to anything, and his contract expires in March. What the Cardinals do with Peterson will hinge on what they do around him. Robert Alford, who signed before the 2019 season, has yet to play a down because of injuries, and Byron Murphy is more of an inside corner. In theory, Arizona would need to solidify the position before letting Peterson walk. — Josh Weinfuss


Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The Rams have a few defensive playmakers, including safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill, who are pending free agents, but with the NFL’s premium on pass-rushers, that could mean Floyd is likely to be the most pursued. Rams coach Sean McVay gave an unequivocal yes when asked if he wanted Floyd to return. But it could come down to whether the Rams can afford to keep the 2016 first-round pick who tallied a career-best 10.5 sacks this season. — Lindsey Thiry


Offensive tackle Trent Williams. He’s the 49ers’ top priority, and he has made it clear he’d like to stay, but it’s not that simple. The Niners cannot tag Williams, which means he could be one of the only premier left tackles ever to hit the open market. Williams has said “it would be interesting to kind of see what [my] value holds” and if that value goes to a place the 49ers might not be able to handle given their salary-cap constraints, they could find themselves with a difficult decision. Odds are the sides will work something out, but if that doesn’t happen before free agency begins, the Niners might have to sweat it out and, if they lose him, find themselves with a massive need at one of the most important positions in football. — Nick Wagoner


Cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Griffin and running back Chris Carson are two players the Seahawks want to keep, but evidently not badly enough to try to extend either last offseason when each was heading into the last year of his rookie deal. Griffin made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2019. He’s well-liked in the organization, and he’s answered the question of whether he can take the ball away, with three interceptions in 2020 matching his combined total from his first three seasons. How far the Seahawks will go to re-sign him could depend to some degree on how much they have to pay strong safety Jamal Adams, who’s in line for a massive extension. Adams likely is Seattle’s top offseason contract priority. — Brady Henderson

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New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas likely to have multiple surgeries on ankle

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New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas is likely to have surgeries on both the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his high ankle this offseason, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

Thomas knew it was likely Drew Brees‘ last year and didn’t want to miss out on the final opportunity to try and win a Super Bowl with him. He often wouldn’t practice all week yet would still play in games — at much less than 100% — after taking pain medication, the source said.

The coaches told him even as injured as he was, they were much better off with him than without him, the source said.

Thomas played in just seven regular-season games in 2020 because of a nagging ankle injury that he suffered in Week 1. He returned from injured reserve for the NFC wild-card game vs. Chicago, scoring his first touchdown of the season, after the Saints decided to rest him over the final three games of the regular season to try and get him as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs.

The NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 after setting a league record with 149 catches, Thomas had just 40 receptions for 438 yards with no touchdowns in seven games this season.

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Tom Brady’s success with Buccaneers sparks mixed reaction in New England – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady will play in his 14th conference championship game when he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), a fact that has sparked widespread emotions among New England Patriots followers.

Some are all aboard the TB12 Train and would like nothing more than to see Brady win his seventh Super Bowl championship, a result of how appreciative they are of his accomplishments. Others simply can’t go there, perhaps with the thinking that seeing Brady raise a Lombardi trophy in a Buccaneers jersey might lessen what it meant when he did so with the Patriots.

Then there are those who might feel a little bit of a both, depending on the moment.

Twitter provided a snapshot of differing viewpoints among Patriots fans.

One can only imagine how Patriots owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft are processing what has unfolded.

Last year at this time, before Brady had signed with the Buccaneers, Robert Kraft told NBC’s Peter King: “My hope and prayer is number one, he plays for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires.”

And in March 2019, Jonathan Kraft told the crowd at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: “What keeps us awake at night is how we’re going to stay at least at a consistently above-average level — if not competing for championships — when the coach and the quarterback who are such important elements of the group that puts a football team together are no longer with us.”

The Patriots still have the coach, Bill Belichick, and are coming off a 7-9 season in which they didn’t qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But they don’t have the quarterback, and Brady’s presence in another conference title game provides a natural springboard for some Patriots followers to revisit why.

The answer — as many answers are in football — is complicated.

Here is a simplified viewpoint from a longtime team reporter:

Brady had been decisive in his intention to play until age 45, and had the Patriots decided to commit to that at any point prior to 2019, he likely would have spent his entire career in New England.

But Belichick, with no history to fall back on when it comes to quarterbacks playing at a high level to that age, was reluctant to do so, which created more of an “uncharted territory” year-to-year dynamic.

This opened the door for Brady to consider what football life might be like elsewhere — and for another team to woo Brady with more of a longer-range vision for him.

In turn, Belichick — who has since noted how the Patriots “sold out” from 2014 to 2019 and reaped the rewards of three Super Bowl championships and five conference championship game appearances as a result of it — could begin moving toward a more sustainable longer-range model of building what he hopes is a perennial contender.

King perhaps best captured it last March when he wrote: “Part of this decision, a big part, I believe, is Brady wanting to see football from another point, with another coach, with another team, to see another football life. What’s the world like outside of Foxborough? Eight years from now, or whenever the gold-jacketed Brady walks into Canton, he’ll hug Belichick for 15 seconds and mean it; yes, the Patriots owe him for the six Super Bowls. But he owes Belichick, too. It’s fair to say that sometimes, a new start is better for everyone.”

Yet that doesn’t mean new starts are always easy for passionate followers to process.

So as Brady prepares for yet another conference championship game, the view from New England — where he helped lead fans on an unforgettable journey over two decades — is predictably mixed.



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