The end of the Tom Brady era in New England appears to be approaching.
Everyone in the football world knew it would eventually, of course. Brady is 42 and his longevity has, in some ways, complicated the Patriots' plans (e.g., the Jimmy Garoppolo trade).
But there are increasing signs that the long-time partnership could be coming to an end, and NFL insiders are more openly speculating about it.
Brady is set to become a true free agent this offseason. He and the Patriots came to an agreement on an "extension" at the beginning of training camp that essentially amounted to a one-year raise. In return, the Patriots cannot franchise-tag Brady, meaning the greatest quarterback of all-time could theoretically shop for offers around the league.
ESPN's Adam Schefter said on his podcast, "I think it's going to be his last year in New England. It's shaping up that way. We'll see."
Schefter also elaborated further on the set of "Monday Night Football," noting that Brady put his house up for sale, as did his trainer and business partner, Alex Guererro.
"When we talk about Tom and his future, let's look at some simple things," Schefter said. "Has he put his home for sale? Yes. Has his trainer put his home for sale? Yes. Has he set up his contract to avoid after the season to become a free agent? Yes. So, if he's selling his home and his trainer his selling his home and he's voiding his contract, what does that tell you?"
—ESPN (@espn) October 22, 2019
Schefter maintained his stance on ESPN's "Get Up" on Thursday, saying that, to him, Brady staying in New England is the "least likely option."
"He's either staying in New England, he's retiring or he's going to play somewhere else," Schefter said. "I would think of those three that staying in New England, to me, would seem like the least likely option of the three."
—Get Up (@GetUpESPN) October 24, 2019
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport addressed similar topics, saying that people in Brady's camp are not yet looking down the road.
"When I've talked to people close to Brady, and I've mentioned 2020, the response has been unanimous: 'Let's focus on 2019 and worry about everything else after. He's not tied to the Patriots or the NFL or anyone else after this season.'"
Statistically, Brady remains about the same quarterback he's been in recent years. His completion percentage (65.9%) is even with last year's (65.8%) and above his career rate (64.1%). He's throwing for 285 yards per game, higher than last year. While his touchdown percentage (4%) is lower than last year (5.1%) and his career percentage (5.5%), his interception rate (1.5%) is on-par for a typical Brady season.
The eye test is slightly less flattering, but not shocking, either. Brady doesn't move around the pocket quite as easily (to be expected for a 42-year-old) and he's made some puzzling throws this year under pressure.
But with the right weapons around him, including a solid offensive line, there is still plenty of evidence to suggest Brady can be a team's starting quarterback. It's not as if any decline from him has taken the Patriots out of championship contention — they're 7-0.
What does Brady think about his future? During his weekly radio interview on "The Greg Hill Morning Show," he offered zero clues.
"That is the great part for me, is that I don't know," Brady said. "I think that has been a unique situation that I have been in because I think when you commit to a team for a certain amount of years you kind feel like (there is) the responsibility to always fulfill the contract. For me, it's been good because I am just taking it day-by-day and I am enjoying what I have. I don't know what the future holds and the great part is for me, football at this point is all borrowed time. I never expected to play 20 years and I am playing on a great team and it's just been an incredible 20 years of my life."
He added: "One day I will wake up and I will feel like, 'OK, that will be enough.' When that day comes, that day comes. I don't know if it will be after this year. I don't know if it will be five years from now. I don't have to determine those things right now, either."
Brady and the Patriots certainly are focused on this season, as they are once again positioned to come out of the AFC.
Whether this is the swan song for Brady with the Patriots or the entire NFL is unclear, but speculation will only continue to mount as we approach the back-half of the NFL season.