In 2012, Peyton Manning hit free agency. His health was a concern, but he had a few serious suitors.
The Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers made the strongest plays for Manning. Manning chose the Broncos. He had three fine individual seasons there, and was part of a Super Bowl championship team in his fourth and final Denver season even as his own play eroded. No other Hall of Fame quarterback has had two distinctly successful chapters with separate teams like Manning did.
Tom Brady, like Manning eight years ago, is embarking on free agency for the first time. If he makes the right decision on a new team, he could add a chapter that will boost his legacy even further. Imagine if Brady can win big without Bill Belichick.
As Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson reported on Monday, two outside suitors emerged for Brady. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers are both in the mix. Perhaps now that Brady has made his Patriots exit official, other teams might call.
Here’s a look at Brady’s options, and the best spot for him to land:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have not hidden their desire to land Brady. Coach Bruce Arians mentioned Brady at the NFL scouting combine, which could draw a tampering charge if the Patriots wanted to make it an issue. Either way, it’s no secret the Bucs want Brady.
The positives are that Arians is a great offensive coach, and the Buccaneers have two great receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. On paper, Brady doesn’t fit Arians’ offense. Arians likes the deep ball, which the 42-year-old Brady doesn’t specialize in anymore. Arians’ quarterbacks often take deep drops and stand in against the rush, which seems like a bad idea for Brady. But Arians is a smart coach and he’d adjust to Brady, not the other way around.
The Buccaneers weren’t bad last season. They were 7-9 despite 30 interceptions from quarterback Jameis Winston. Could they take the next step with better quarterback play? Obviously the Buccaneers believe so. It’s not an obvious fit, given Arians’ preferred offense, but there’s enough talent to make it work.
Los Angeles Chargers
Brady makes a lot of sense for the Chargers. The Chargers are anonymous in Los Angeles, and what better way to get some headlines than to sign the only six-time champion in NFL history? Most NFL teams don’t need to worry about the bottom line — most teams would sell out with a scarecrow at quarterback — but the Chargers might. And they have moved on from Philip Rivers, with Tyrod Taylor as their current top option to start opening day.
The Chargers have plenty of weapons too. Keenan Allen is a star, Mike Williams has shown flashes of being great, Hunter Henry could be a top tight end if he can stay healthy and Austin Ekeler can be Brady’s new James White, a playmaker as a receiver out of the backfield. The Chargers have a talented defense, too. Los Angeles always seems to underachieve and it’s not like Rivers was a bad player. Could Brady do that much better? It wouldn’t be a return to the Bay Area, where Brady grew up, but a move back to California might appeal to him.
One thing to consider: The Chargers host the Patriots during the 2020 season, while the Buccaneers don’t. That might be a factor if playing against the Patriots would appeal to Brady.
The long shots: Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants
The Bears seemed to be linked to any remotely available quarterback on Monday, so perhaps they’ll consider Brady now that they know he’s free. Brady would get to play with a stellar defense, on a team only a season removed from an NFC North title.
The Colts also have a strong roster and want a new quarterback. They were reportedly talking to Philip Rivers on Monday, but what if the Patriots take a look at Rivers or the Colts simply feel Brady is the better option?
The New York Giants were mentioned early on as a candidate, because former Patriots assistant Joe Judge is their coach and former Patriots assistants can’t resist signing old New England players. Brady to New York seems very unlikely, but we’ll see.
Maybe there’s some mystery team that will pop out of nowhere, like the Las Vegas Raiders (Marcus Mariota could back up Brady as well as he could back up Derek Carr). But realistically, it seems like the list is down to two teams, the Chargers and Bucs.
Brady will need to choose wisely, because like Manning eight years ago, a great second act could end up being a big part of his NFL legacy.
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