If forced to lay a proportion on the odds that it would actually come to fruition, we’d probably have to place it somewhere around five percent, which is still a significant hurdle from the zero at which it has flatlined for some 14 years.
But it is a realistic debate to pursue, and one we have to imagine has the New England Patriots in a state of inner turmoil.
Should they explore trading Tom Brady?
The NFL trading deadline is less than four weeks away, and while the date is notoriously the tortoise to the hare of its Major League Baseball counterpart, significant moves have been made just before the cutoff. Two years ago the Patriots acquired cornerback Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Twenty-five years ago, the Dallas Cowboys changed the entire direction of their franchise in the landmark deal that sent running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings. It remains the largest trade in league history, on deadline day nonetheless.
Meanwhile, the Patriots quarterback has visibly grown frustrated with his surroundings in New England. The offensive line remains a point of grand concern, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels calls plays as if he’s trying to impress folks at MIT, and Brady has to deal with a crop of receivers not exactly up to snuff, particularly as second-year players Aaron Dobson (“mouthing off” to McDaniels) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hell if we know) have found the pine the last two games against Oakland and Kansas City.
Brady’s future in New England was on a tight leash to begin with, even before his decline in play became one of the primary reasons why the 2-2 Patriots are in the midst of an identity crisis. At 37, he’s only one year younger than John Elway was when the Denver Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback won his first Super Bowl, but in many ways Elway had Terrell Davis and a shining supporting cast including Rod Smith Shannon Sharpe, and an offensive line featuring Gary Zimmerman and Tom Nalen, to thank. Aside from Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Brady has little in the way to compare to Elway’s offensive tools from 17 years ago.
At what point does Brady realize that he can’t possibly do this alone? Not with this crew.
Even though he’s looked like the second coming of Scott Secules this season, Brady’s trade value is still off the charts for financial reasons alone. Brady signed a three-year, $27 million contract extension with the Patriots in 2013, a deal that, once again, helped give the team financial flexibility. But the extension also dictated that Brady would make $57 million guaranteed over a five-year period, giving the quarterback some injury protection.
Brady's team-friendly salaries for 2015, 2016 and 2017 will be $7 million, $8 million and $9 million, respectively, fully guaranteed for injury only. If he were to be released due to poor performance, he makes none of the money coming to him.
The likelihood of that transpiring is slim to none, but as The Sporting News points out, “his 2015-2017 salaries became fully guaranteed provided he is on the roster for the last game of the 2014 season. The cost to release Brady and avoid that guarantee would be $18 million against the salary cap in 2015.”
Those parameters, coupled with the fact that the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of last spring’s NFL Draft, the highest selection of a quarterback in the Bill Belichick era, suggest that the Patriots may not be willing to go the distance of the deal with Brady, who will be 40 when his contract expires.
While Brady’s deal doesn't include a no-trade clause, one would have to imagine even the bottom-line Krafts wouldn’t feel comfortable shipping the player who built Patriot Place off to a no-man’s land like Jacksonville, even if the offerings in return were notable. But if a possible trade of Brady was a percolating storyline waiting for the offseason, its simmering reality could see its timetable expedited. But what realistic options would there be out there? What contending teams would be willing to ditch their starting quarterback mid-season for a veteran on the downslide, albeit even one destined for the Hall of Fame? Is Brady any upgrade over the Bengals’ Andy Dalton? The Chiefs’ Alex Smith? The 49ers Colin Kaepernick?
Maybe, but probably not. However, there are two situations which bear watching. The Arizona Cardinals are 3-0 coming off the bye week, and face an October schedule that includes the Broncos, Redskins, Raiders, and Eagles. If they make it through that stretch 3-1, and are in serious contention at the trading deadline, would they consider surrendering a package that could land them Brady to play in place of Drew Stanton and the injured Carson Palmer?
The other is in Houston, where old friend Bill O’Brien has the Texans off to a 3-1 start, even with Ryan Fitzpatrick (five touchdowns, five interceptions, QB rating of 86.2) doing everything he can to manage otherwise. O’Brien, in his first year as head coach with the Texans, is obviously familiar with Brady thanks to his time with the Patriots as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, and rather to be forced to turn to former Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, perhaps there’s some possibility that he picks up the phone and dials Bill Belichick to ask just how much more Brady has left.
Both situations would give Brady a stud receiver to work with; Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, Andre Johnson in Houston, a factor that could re-energize the frustrated legend in a way that adding Randy Moss into the mix in 2007 did in the wake of the Patriots leaving him hanging with Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell one year earlier. Sending Brady to a contender would allow the Patriots to give him another decent shot at winning another Super Bowl, not to mention a situation that might allow him to prosper out of the shadow of Belichick.
It would usher in the Garoppolo era sooner than anybody anticipated, but it might be the proper avenue to pursue, both for a frustrated Brady and a team that may feel the need to move on while the opportunity presents itself.
Trade Tom Brady? Has it really come to this?
It’s not likely that this is to be Brady’s final month in a Patriots uniform, but don’t brush off the possibility, however slight it may be, that he could be gone either.
Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City. Brett Favre to the Jets. Johnny Unitas to San Diego. Elway going out on top after back-to-back Super Bowl victories is the exception. It’s a stark reality.
Even for Tom Brady.
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