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Latest reports paint a bleak picture about Tom Brady returning to the Patriots, but should not necessarily be taken at face value

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Related: Oregon State’s Jake Luton is not worried about potentially having to fill Tom Brady’s shoes

AFC Wild Card: Tennesee Titans Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The NFL scouting combine is not just a chance for college players to present themselves on a well-lit stage, but also for teams and player representatives to unofficially kick off free agency. First discussions will be had and an early market set for players about to become available three weeks later. In the middle of it all, however, something else happens as well: agents and teams will communicate through members of the media.

Take the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. From all we know at the moment, the two sides have had some communication but nothing substantial regarding a new contract for the future Hall of Famer who will hit free agency for the first time in his career on March 18. Considering the unclear status of the collective bargaining agreement beyond 2020 — players have yet to vote on the proposal — this had to be expected.

Despite that, the two sides are expected to start talking either this week or soon after the combine has concluded. From all that we know, nothing has been decided yet one way or the other. However, the rumor mill keeps working tirelessly and on Thursday morning it produced a bleak-looking picture when two well-respected media members reported that a Brady returning to the Patriots appears to be unlikely at this point in time.

First, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington said that he “would be stunned if Tom Brady went back to New England” during an appearance on his network’s show Get Up. A short time later, the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian added that the Patriots and Brady’s camp have not yet been in contact and that the odds of a contract extension materializing are “‘not looking good,’ according to a person with knowledge of the situation.”

As noted above, both Darlington and Guregian are veteran NFL reporters and not known for sensationalizing information for the sake of generating a stir. They get information from their sources and report it. Given where the entire league is currently in when it comes to the offseason and uncertainty surrounding the CBA as well as the franchise tag and salary cap statuses, however, today’s reports should be taken with a grain of salt.

After all, the Patriots and Brady have not yet had any real talks about a new deal. Already ruling out a return to New England therefore seems to be an out-of-character move for both parties. Unless the quarterback really wants to play elsewhere or the Patriots really do not want him back — despite all the arguments speaking against both scenarios — any leaning one way or the other seems to be premature with plenty of time left.

The reports may not look positive at the moment, but to speak in football terms: without the parameters being set in place by the NFL in terms of CBA etc. we are just in warmups for the game. And don’t you ever count out the Patriots and Tom Brady to make a fourth quarter comeback.