The Patriots have a GOAT-sized void on their roster at quarterback following the reported departure of Tom Brady, who announced on social media on Tuesday morning "my football journey will take place elsewhere."
Hours later, the NFL tweeted that Brady had agreed in principle to a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Free agency officially opens on Wednesday.
Brady's comments were the first to indicate the most-decorated player in NFL history would leave New England. In a two-part message, Brady thanked the Patriots and the fans and said "FOREVER A PATRIOT."
"I don't know what my football future holds, but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and my career," he wrote. "Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for out incredible TEAM experiences."
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The one-year contract Brady signed before last season expires Wednesday afternoon, and his agent could negotiate a deal with another team on Tuesday, though it can't be official yet. He actually could still work out a new deal with New England, but his Instagram post suggests that won't happen.
The 42-year-old six-time Super Bowl winner posted Tuesday on social media "my football journey will take place elsewhere." The comments were the first to indicate the most-decorated player in NFL history would leave New England. In a two-part message, Brady thanked the Patriots and the fans and said "FOREVER A PATRIOT."
Kraft, Belichick Respond
Patriots' owner Robert Kraft appeared on ESPN on Tuesday morning, reacting to the news that Brady is leaving the team after two decades.
"Tommy initiated contact last night and came over," Kraft said. "We had a positive, respectful discussion. It's not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest. After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son."
Bill Belichick issued a statement Tuesday calling Brady one of the creators of the Patriots culture.
"On a daily basis, he was a tone setter and a bar raiser," he said. "He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in most every season in between. This is a credit to Tom’s consistency and what separates him. He didn’t just perform. He didn’t just win. He won championships over and over again."
Belichick added that he and Brady "will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation."
Brady's Departure Leaves Patriots Shorthanded at QB
While the seeds of this day were sewn last summer, when New England agreed not to use the franchise tag on Brady if he were to hit free agency, that doesn’t lessen the shock that for the first time in two decades, the Patriots have some work to do at the most important position in football.
Brady’s exit leaves Jarrett Stidham, 23, and Cody Kessler, 26, as the lone passers on the depth chart for New England.
Brady had been one of five players in NFL history to spend 20 seasons with a single organization, along with kickers Lou Groza (Browns) and Jason Hanson (Lions), cornerback Darrell Green (Washington) and offensive tackle Jackie Slater (Rams). Slater, of course, if the father of Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, who just re-signed with the Patriots on a two-year deal.
Brady, who turns 43 on Aug. 2, holds every significant passing record in New England franchise history. He’s at or near the top of the list of many league-wide records as well, including second in both passing yards (74,571) and touchdown passes (541) behind Drew Brees.
Of course, Brady’s six Super Bowl victories and nine total appearances in the game are records which truly set him apart from anyone else in the 100-year history of the NFL, regardless of position.
Brady's Difficult 2019 Season
Brady wasn’t at his best in 2019, completing 60.8% of his passes -- the third-worst rate of his career -- with an 88.0 passer rating, his lowest mark since 2013.
Much of that blame could be placed on the lack of weaponry around Brady, as New England failed to come even close to replacing the retired Rob Gronkowski and received precious little from its wide receivers beyond Julian Edelman.
With cap space already tight, however, it’ll be easier said than done to upgrade the pass catching department this off-season, regardless of who the quarterback is. Brady also leaves behind a $13 million dead cap charge.
Is Stidham the Next Man Up?
Stidham, a fourth-round draft choice out of Auburn in 2019, appeared in three games as a rookie for the Patriots. He threw a pick-six to Jamal Adams on just his third NFL throw in New England’s Week 3 game against the Jets, prompting Brady to re-enter the game despite a 30-14 lead.
Stidham is a candidate to be the starting quarterback for the Patriots in Week 1 in 2020, but it’s extremely likely the team will be active on both the free agency and trade markets to bring in a veteran as well. It’s possible New England goes back into the draft for a passer as well, which would be the third year in a row the team has selected a QB; the Patriots used a seventh-round pick in 2018 on Danny Etling.
Kessler did not see any game action with New England in 2019. Originally a third-round draft pick of the Browns in 2016, Kessler is 2-10 in his career as a starter for Cleveland and the Jaguars.
With Slater and fellow free agent Devin McCourty both coming back to New England, the Patriots’ locker room won’t lack its usual leadership without Brady.
But make no mistake about it: Foxboro will have anything but a familiar feel sans Brady.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.