BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in his career, Tom Brady is due to become a free agent on March 18. Everyone knows this.

What gets somewhat overlooked in all of that hullabaloo is that the Patriots could avoid the possibility of losing Brady by signing him to a new deal before mid-March. Considering he and the team have worked out seven different contracts dating back to 2000, a clear-minded resolution between the two parties seems like a real possibility.

Or, perhaps, it only seemed that way.

On Monday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport discussed the thinking that went into last summer’s agreement, which signed up Brady for one season and did not allow the Patriots to apply the franchise tag. What Rapoport discovered was an indication that the Patriots are comfortable to let Brady hit free agency and see what his market is.

“The option was to allow Brady to test free agency, to not get franchised, to not get transition [tagged], just to have a clear path toward free agency,” Rapoport said. “And from what I understand, [Robert] Kraft’s thinking on this was basically if the sides came together, if Brady decided that the Patriots were his best option after testing free agency, and if Bill Belichick — who of course is making the decisions for New England — if he decides that Brady is his best option at this price, then in the end, after all of this, after going through everything, then it will mean that it’s basically meant to be the best thing for all sides.”

Rapoport continued: “Kraft wanted them to get apart, to see what’s out there, and try to come together in the middle. And the hope is if that works out for 2020, then everyone will be happy they went through the process.”

A significant factor at play, though, is the cap hit that will be on the books for the Patriots. Because of the way last year’s deal was structured, if Brady does not sign a new deal before free agency, then the Patriots will have to carry a $13 million cap charge in dead money in 2020. If the Patriots and Brady were able to work out a new contract before free agency, then that cap charge would almost get cut in half, to $6.75 million.

Based on the thought process that’s now been revealed in last summer’s negotiations, it appears like the latter option is extremely unlikely, despite the cap implications.

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