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Chief Thoughts: Could Patriots quarterback Tom Brady end up in... Indianapolis?

It’s time to close the curtains on 2019.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

I will be writing a more traditional column later this or next week but in the interim this interesting scenario could not escape my mind. Let’s get started: If Bill Belichick does not want to re-sign Tom Brady, Brady should join the Indianapolis Colts. I desperately want Brady to remain a Patriot, but I strongly believe he could go to Indianapolis in the event that he does not stay in New England.

I know I probably just triggered every single Patriot fan in the nation but bear with me.

I am not saying I want Brady to be a Colt. The Colts are arguably my least favorite franchise in football. They are a historic enemy of New England. Their owner is one of the worst in the NFL, and the Colts are responsible for the DeflateGate scam that cost the New England Patriots a first-round draft pick and got Brady suspended in 2016. In my personal dictionary the Colts are synonymous with profanity that I am prohibited from writing on this site.

Also, I want Brady to retire a Patriot.

My feelings, however, do not matter. The feelings of the fans do not matter. What matters is the calculus of football. And that calculus makes a Brady-Colts alliance extremely provocative. Let’s count the reasons:

  • They need a franchise quarterback.
  • They don’t have a top draft pick to draft a franchise quarterback.
  • They have a better offensive line than New England.
  • Their offensive coaching will probably be better than the Patriots next year.
  • They have a good head coach.
  • Their general manager built a playoff contender through the draft.
  • They have better draft capital than the Patriots.
  • They have the second most salary cap space in the NFL.
  • They have a young and talented defense that suffered poor injury luck in 2019.
  • They possess a combination of draft capital, cap space, and young talent to realistically put together a significantly better roster than the Patriots’ next year.
  • They could sign Tom Brady to a good deal.
  • Brady would reunite with former wolf pack member Jacoby Brissett.

Whew. Those are a lot of reasons. What are the reasons not go to the Colts?

  • The Colts may not be interested in Brady or aggressively upgraded their roster to compete with him in 2020.
  • The Patriots have a better roster than the Colts at the moment.
  • Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time.
  • The Colts could have the offensive coaching advantage but the Patriots would have the defensive and overall coaching advantage by a mile.
  • It could harm Brady’s legacy in New England. I already explained all the reasons Patriot fans do not like the Colts, and there would be backlash.

But I think there are realistic answers to those concerns and they can primarily be addressed through the reasons why the alliance makes sense.

Chris Ballard is one of the most honest GM’s in the NFL. He gave a comprehensive and blunt assessment of the 2019 season. He made it clear that team needed more veteran leadership to compensate for its youth. He specifically harped on his need to provide players that can help the younger players stay cool under pressure, remain humble and keep focused on process over outcome. He pointed out that he wanted more fire and he wanted the fire coming from his players, not the coaches. He also made it clear he was unsatisfied with the quarterback position.

Ballard also claimed the Colts’ roster was in a better position than any team in 2020. I agree with him. The Colts have the resources to turn themselves into a top team in the NFL this offseason, which is why the Colts make an attractive destination for Brady.

I’m not saying Brady does not present a risk, though. In his advancing years the risk of regression is ever present. He also does not possess a ceiling anywhere close to what they could get with a franchise rookie quarterback. But he is the least risky option that simultaneously opens the door to a realistic Super Bowl berth. Brady is a champion and a leader of men. Anything that an offensive locker room lacks is immediately fixed by his presence. Tom Brady is one year removed from going blow for blow with Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts will need to decide if Brady can still be that quarterback with the proper support. If the answer is yes, they possess the resources to put pieces around him and let him get to work.

It’s very possible the Colts could have a superior roster to the Patriots next season. They were arguably close this year, they simply did not have the quarterback. Brady would fix that and then they could use all their considerable assets to becoming a serious Super Bowl favorite.

Indianapolis is also positioned for a free agency bonanza. According to Spotrac, the Colts have $96 million in cap space. By cutting Brian Hoyer they could increase their cap space to $102 million (!) and they would still have Jacoby Brisset as one of the best backups in the NFL. It would be extremely easy for the team to generate even more space through contract restructures, trimming additional fat, or more aggressive cuts. The Colts have one expensive free agent in Anthony Castonzo, compare to the Patriots who have multiple of them and limited cap space to operate with. When free agency is said and done the Patriots could very well be a weaker team, the Colts almost certainly be a stronger one.

The math does not get any better in the draft. The Colts possess all of their original choices, will pick ten spots higher than the Patriots (13th overall) and own the 34th overall selection from Washington which is essentially a basement first-rounder. New England does not even have its own second-round pick. There are no guarantees in the draft but the odds are better the Colts exit the draft with superior upgrades than the Patriots.

I think the Colts would prefer to draft a quarterback but they are not picking high enough to get a top prospect at the position (if they traded up for a pick it would cost a fortune in draft capital). There is also no guarantee they can trade for who they want. Sure, they could hit the NFL jackpot and find a rookie franchise quarterback like the Kansas City Chiefs did in 2017, but they are equally as likely to waste a trove of picks for minimal gain like so many franchises before them. Ballard repeatedly stated the dangers of forcing a quarterback pick. If they cannot be confident they will get their guy, they will not pick a quarterback. But they would still need to upgrade the position

From a football perspective the Brady-Colts marriage makes a ton of sense.

What about non-football factors? If Belichick moved past Brady, fan backlash directed towards the quarterback would be minimal. They would blame Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft, but not Brady. Some fans are going to rage no matter what but the vast majority would understand Brady’s decision.

The more interesting analysis would be if the Patriots wanted Brady back but he chose the Colts anyway.

Hold on.

Don’t flip out one me yet.

This decision would once again assume that the Colts actually wanted to sign Brady. Why would Brady not want to go? For one, he’s been in New England his entire career and may simply not want to leave. It’s questionable whether he or his wife would want to live in Indiana. He may not want to damage his relationship with Robert Kraft. He may not want to damage his relationship with the region. People would be upset with Brady if he chose to leave New England for Indy and that resentment might linger.

He would also be giving up on a franchise that has consistently rebounded from failure and has the best coaching staff in the NFL. The Patriots have issues with their ceiling but they also have a nice floor. He’d probably have to say goodbye to Julian Edelman, his favorite receiver and one of his best friends, in addition to a ton of other players he’s known for nigh a decade. If he leaves and fails with the Colts, it could damage his legacy and provide more fuel to the fire that the Patriots’ success is due to Belichick and not Brady.

And yet there are equally compelling reasons to leave. Indianapolis may not have a great coaching staff but they do have a good one. If Josh McDaniels leaves New England, there are good odds that Colts head coach Frank Reich will be a better coordinator than whoever the Patriots find. If the Colts get aggressive in the 2020 offseason, they will probably have a better roster than the Patriots and potentially by a significant margin. Brady may relish the idea of playing away from Belichick, and with risks come rewards.

If the Patriots flounder without Brady while the Colts soar it would do a ton of good for his legacy. Sure, people will be upset. But Tom Brady won six Super Bowls in New England. It’s almost impossible that he does not retire as a beloved legend in the region. Brady is not just chasing rings. He is chasing all-time quarterback statistics. If the Colts invest significantly into their offense Brady would probably have a better chance of reviving his production there than New England.

Yes, the Colts’ skill players are arguably just as bad as the Patriots’ but the difference is that Indianapolis has more resources to change that in 2020. Are the Colts going to be better than the Patriots in four years? I doubt it. Belichick is the master of what he does. He is the greatest coach in the history of the game. Could the Colts with Tom Brady be better than the Patriots without Brady in 2020, however? Tom Brady will have to answer that himself.

So how likely is this scenario to play out?

I don’t think it is the most likely outcome. I think the most likely outcome is that Brady stays in New England and/or the Colts aggressively attack a quarterback they want in the 2020 draft. I don’t think Belichick can find a better quarterback for next year and I don’t think Brady will move past New England if the coach sticks with him. I think the Colts’ GM desperately wants to select his own quarterback and complete the core of his team through the draft.

But if Belichick really moves beyond Brady and the Colts do not think that they would get their quarterback in the draft, I think the marriage between the two of them makes a ton of sense. My gut tells me that Brady stays in New England but, in theory, he could also end up in Indianapolis.