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Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Tom Brady: ‘My hope is he plays for the Patriots. Or he retires’

Related: Bill Belichick acknowledges Tom Brady’s iconic status in New England, but won’t discuss the future

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

By now you may have already heard it: after 20 years with the New England Patriots and for the first time in his NFL career, quarterback Tom Brady is scheduled to enter free agency once it opens in March. His contract is set to void on the first day of the new league year, and all options but a retirement — Brady said that it is “pretty unlikely” he steps away from the game after New England’s wild card loss — seem to be on the table at the moment.

When it comes to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, however, only two of them appear to be realistic: Brady either continues to play in New England, or he calls it a (Hall of Fame) career. Kraft shared his feelings on the matter shortly before the team’s 20-13 season-ending playoff defeat against the Tennessee Titans, when he spoke with NBC Sports’ Peter King about his long-time quarterback and the uncertainty surrounding him beyond 2019.

“Before the season started, it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year,” said Kraft. “You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to six Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he’s part of my family. Blood family. 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 plays 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,” he added. Given Brady’s comments about retiring — he repeatedly said in the past that he wants to play until 45 and also told King on Saturday that he still thinks football is in his future — in combination with this, the road is clear from Kraft’s perspective.

Of course, as New England head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during his season-ending press conference on Sunday it takes more than one person to reach decisions in the NFL. Belichick, who has control over the Patriots’ roster and has made the call to move forward with Brady in 2017 over highly coveted backup Jimmy Garoppolo, is a key player in this discussion alongside the team’s ownership and front office as well as Brady and his camp.

Kraft, however, is adamant that he does not want to see Brady end his career elsewhere like all-time greats such as Joe Montana, Peyton Manning or Johnny Unitas did before him. He made this clear in his talk with King: “I’m thinking of all that, of all the quarterbacks who went elsewhere, and I just hope and believe that Tom — he is so special that he’s earned the right to do what’s best for him — but I just hope and pray we fit into his plans.”

“He is unique in the kind of leader he is, his work ethic, his selfless nature, everything. Think about it: He’s been with us 20 percent of the life of the NFL,” Kraft added. And if everything goes according to his plans, the 42-year-old will remain with his franchise for at least one more season. The questions are, of course, if Belichick and Brady himself see the situation in the same light and want to continue working alongside each other.