BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots season came to an abrupt end Saturday night with a Wild-Card loss to the Titans, a much earlier finish than many anticipated. And while the Patriots have 20 impending free agents, there’s only one that will rule the sports world over the next two-plus months: Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.

The greatest quarterback of all time is set to become a free agent for the first time in his illustrious career, and with Brady set to turn 43 ahead of next season, there is the real potential that he’ll be playing for someone other than the Patriots. Brady said following Saturday night’s loss that he intends to keep playing, so now the question shifts to whether Bill Belichick wants him back, or if the head coach is ready to move on to a new quarterback.

Brady in another uniform is difficult to picture for just about everyone in New England, but it could become a reality when free agency arrives on March 18. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss and WEEI’s Christian Fauria joined Steve Burton on WBZ-TV’s Sports Final on Sunday night to discuss the many layers of Brady’s upcoming free agency, and all agree it goes much deeper than just a contract.

Does Bill want Brady back? Will owner Robert Kraft force Bill to take Brady back? Does Brady even want to come back if the team doesn’t improve on offense? It was all part of the wide-ranging discussion, which involved a little role play from Reiss and Fauria.

First up, Reiss took the perspective of Kraft.

“I start with [Bill], and I say, ‘Bill, it matters to me as the owner for the team that employs you, I want [Brady] to finish his career as a Patriot — can we make that happen? And then I turn to [Brady] and say ‘I know this has been a hard year for you. We probably didn’t build the offense for you the way we should have, I’d like you to give us another chance to make this right. I think Bill will be able to bend a little here to try to make it work, because it’s important to me. Let’s make it work,'” Reiss acted out.

Easy enough, right? Well, not exactly. That would require Belichick to bend a bit, something Christian Fauria doesn’t think the head coach/GM will do.

“Can I be Bill? I’d say, ‘You know how we run things here. I’m not sentimental and I’m not going to be nostalgic about what happened. Look at all the players that have come before Tom Brady, and I’ve said for years, we treat them all the same. Do you want to win in the future?'” Fauria said.

Since Brady has signed team-friendly deals throughout his career in New England, he may be looking to get paid this time around. But after seeing Brady and the offense struggle throughout the 2019 season, that may not be an option for the Patriots.

“[Brady] made $23 million — has he earned a raise? Should he make $25 million?” asked Fauria, before putting on the Belichick hoodie again. “‘If you’re OK with it and I’m OK with it, let’s give him a one-year deal.’ But where the rubber meets the road is when they put the offer in front of him, is it a disrespectful take-it or leave-it type thing where he says, ‘Wow, this is what they think of me after everything I’ve done?'”

There will be other teams out there that are ready to offer Brady much more, which would then turn the whole situation into a big game of chicken. But Reiss says it’ll go beyond New England’s contract offer, and will really depend on what the Patriots are going to offer Brady on the field.

“It’s not the number that matters, it’s the respect,” said Reiss. “Whatever the number is, it’s not just that. You could give him $40 million, but if he’s coming back to the same situation as this year, I don’t think Tom would be happy with that. They have to do more for him to show him they’re going to take him through his final year, two years, three years, and make it easier for [him].

“The number matters from the perspective of we’re going to work with you to make the final three years of your career better than this situation, where there wasn’t enough offense and you only score 13 points in the AFC Wild Card round. That can’t happen,” Reiss continued. “That’s what it is; it’s about the number, it’s about the plan and making him feel like a vital, iconic player he is.”

Tune in to Sports Final and Sports Final OT every Sunday night at 11:35 p.m. on WBZ-TV!



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