In 1993, the first year of close-to-real NFL free agency, Reggie White embarked on an extended tour that ended in God (and/or an offer of the most negotiable notes bearing the phrase “In God We Trust”) telling him to sign with the Packers. As Peter King and I pondered the possibilities for Tom Brady in 2020 during Tuesday’s PFT Live, a thought arose: Will Brady want to do the same thing?
In the 27 years since Reggie White milked the free agency experience for all it was worth, only one other player left the football-following world nearly as tantalized: Peyton Manning, in 2012. That year, teams lined up out the door for a chance to sign a guy who’d had four neck surgeries and whose nerves in his triceps may or may not have been firing the way they needed to.
Enter Tom Brady, who’s on the brink of his first-ever free agency and may indeed be preparing to test the waters. But it’s one thing to explore the landscape via the discreet we-never-had-this-call phone calls of the illegal tampering period (i.e., currently). It’s quite another to not do a wink-nod deal before the start of the legal tampering period, to not do a tentative deal during the legal tampering period, and to embark after March 18 on a tour that will take him to multiple cities as he forces teams to put their Plan Bs on hold while he looks for his own Plan A destination.
With so many available veteran quarterbacks in the coming free-agency cycle, Brady could logjam the entire process if he decides that he’s going to take his wife and one or more kids to L.A., Nashville, Miami, Dallas (I root for chaos), New York (if that’s what this means), Indianapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago, Charlotte, Tampa Bay, and/or San Francisco (again, chaos) for face-to-face meetings aimed at bigger-than-money questions like offensive philosophy, personnel, and overall feel and fit.
At a time when the NFL’s offseason structure is set up for free agency to move quickly, Brady could be in position to bend time in his direction, allowing him to make the most informed decision possible and avoiding the common problem (as the Texans learned with Brock Osweiler four years ago) of hiring a guy the head coach has never even met.
It would be easy for Brady to justify a slow, methodical process. He has one shot at free agency, and he wants to be certain he’ll have no regrets. If, along the way, he ends up dominating the NFL news cycle and paralyzing free agency, well, there’s nothing he can really do about that.
Ultimately, whether Brady can pull something like this off hinges on whether teams will let him. Every year, contract negotiators make it known to agents at the outset of the legal tampering period that, if an offer isn’t immediately accepted, the team will move on to the next guy on the list. The question as to Brady becomes whether teams will be willing to wait for Brady to make a decision before moving on to someone who will happily agree to terms. If they’ll be willing to wait, Brady could turn the first week or so of free agency into TB12-Watch.