FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has repeatedly said that he hopes to play to his mid-40s, while adding last Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference that he has “negotiated” the next two years with his wife, Gisele Bundchen, but has “a little further to go” in those family talks.
Brady’s remarks provide a springboard to examine and forecast the multiple layers of his future and the team’s succession plans.
The contract. Brady’s current deal expires at the end of the 2019 season. That takes him to the two years he has “negotiated” at home. If the 40-year-old Brady hasn’t signed an extension by that point, he would be looking at playing a 21st NFL season as he approached his 43rd birthday, and the Patriots would at least have to consider the merits of using the franchise tag on him for 2020. Tagging Brady has never really been a topic of conversation during his career, because his contract usually has been extended with two years remaining on it. Patriots owner Robert Kraft told The Athletic earlier this year that neither side is worried about the contract, and that could be viewed as a reflection of Brady now being in a year-to-year situation based on his age. A lot can change between now and the end of the 2019 season, but as of now, that is a clear mark in the timetable of the team’s quarterback planning.
Two-year window to assess newest QB addition. When the Patriots selected LSU quarterback Danny Etling with the top pick of the seventh round (No. 219 overall) this year, there was an obvious comparison to be made. Could his situation be similar to how the team identified under-the-radar Matt Cassel as a seventh-round pick in 2005, before developing him into a capable backup who won 10 games when elevated to a starting role in 2008? The Patriots should have a better feel if Etling potentially could be that type of player by the end of 2019 training camp (as a comparison, that is similar to the time frame the team elected to move on from Jacoby Brissett). So Etling, who will sign a four-year contract through 2021, is a notable part of the discussion. The Patriots viewed him as favorably, if not more, as any of the quarterbacks who were selected on the third day of the draft (Kyle Lauletta, Mike White, Luke Falk, Tanner Lee, Alex McGough and Logan Woodside).
2019 draft picks could help provide answers. The Patriots have an impressive collection of draft picks for next year, headlined by a first-rounder, two second-rounders (Chicago’s and their own), one third-rounder (from Detroit), and they are projected to get two other third-rounders for losing compensatory free agents Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler this offseason. If the club identifies what it believes is a quarterback-of-the-future prospect, those draft picks could be packaged to put the Patriots in position to draft that player. It’s early, and Baker Mayfield’s rise from projected post-Round 1 player to No. 1 overall pick showed how much things can change in one calendar year, but media analysts don’t rate next year’s quarterback class highly. ESPN’s Todd McShay, for example, had just two quarterbacks in his “way-too-early” 2019 first-round mock draft: Missouri’s Drew Lock and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Free agency/trades to buy more time. The final layer to consider is using free agency and/or trades to continue to buy more time if the in-house options or draft possibilities aren’t convincing, similar to the approach taken by the Minnesota Vikings this offseason with Kirk Cousins. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer, who is under contract with the Pats through 2019, is 32 years old, and he is scheduled to earn $915,000 in base salary in 2018 and $2.8 million in 2019. He is naturally part of any discussion on the team’s quarterback plans, which now have a more defined timetable based on Brady’s remarks: a minimum of two more years before there could be a passing of the torch to someone else.