After the New England Patriots were defeated 20-13 by the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, the first time their season had been ended in the Wildcard Round since 2010, the future of 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady became the biggest talking point in the NFL. Brady has been the face of a Patriots dynasty that dominated the past two decades with six Super Bowl wins since 2002, but while that last victory only came in 2019, the famously unsentimental franchise will have to make a difficult decision on one of the most popular athletes in the region.
The deciding factor on Brady's future will be Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. Kraft has had an incredibly close relationship with Brady and was obviously emotional when speaking about the quarterback's next step with Pro Football Talk.
"I love the young man like he's part of my family. Blood family," Kraft said. "Anyone who's done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years. And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what's in his own best personal interest."
Kraft would also reference legendary quarterbacks such as Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas who became synonymous with a single team before moving on to another team just before their retirement.
As recently as his press conference after Saturday's loss, Brady has been adamant that he will be returning.
"I think a lot of other people who are great at what they do—great artists or great actors or great businessmen—they don't have to stop what they love as they get older," Brady said. "I know there's football still in here."
While it would be Kraft's worst-case scenario, there is no doubt that Brady would have plenty of suitors if he entered free agency. The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders could be looking to make a splash in an effort to attract fans in a new city, while Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver and Carolina offer competitive teams that might just be missing a quarterback to take them to the next level. Brady could even choose to go to Tennessee, where he would reunite with former teammate and current Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
If Brady were to choose to leave New England, even if it worked out for both parties, it would be hugely unpopular in New England. At Brady's potentially final game in Foxboro, fans hung up signs that included phrases such as "Please stay Tommy." If the Patriots decide it's time for a roster rebuild or if Brady feels his best chance for a seventh ring lies elsewhere, there is no doubt the missed opportunity for a storybook ending will leave a lot of New Englanders heartbroken.