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With Tom Brady rumors swirling, free agency has begun in New England

Related: Latest Tom Brady rumors paint a bleak picture, but should not necessarily be taken at face value

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

When it rains it pours, and that was certainly the case on Thursday morning, when Twitter was filled with tweets about Tom Brady after several NFL reporters, like ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Get Up!, reported on the increasing likelihood that Brady will be suiting up for a new team next season.

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald weighed in with the following a short time later:

And then there was The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, who had this to say on the topic of Tom Brady and free agency, at nearly the same time as Guregian’s tweet:

Buckle up, Patriots fans, because we’re just getting started here.

Free agency doesn’t officially begin until March 18, but if Thursday’s reports were any indication, teams and players alike are already exchanging numbers, and using the media to extract any leverage they can possibly get.

It’s not hard to read those reports about Brady leaving as an effort by his camp to push the franchise to the negotiating table so Brady’s camp can get the ball rolling on Brady’s free agency and begin to assess which is the best offer for the 42-year-old signal caller.

That people on Brady’s side already feel the need to negotiate through the media is telling. As of Thursday, the Patriots and Don Yee, Brady’s agent, had not yet met in Indianapolis to discuss a new contract.

Some people, like a couple of well-known radio hosts in the Boston area, may think that the team is dragging their feet and not putting forth a good faith effort in retaining their Hall of Fame quarterback’s services any longer.

What is more likely, however, is that the team is simply waiting for the NFL and its players’ association to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. Discussing a new contract for any player without knowing how the league will look under a new CBA is reckless, and especially so when dealing with such a pivotal free agency as Brady’s.

Don’t believe me? Think that it’s just the Patriots who are taking this approach with key free agents? Take a look at the reports that struck a similar tone with Drew Brees and the Saints.

Still, the longer this process goes on for, the more each side has to think about life without the other, and that has to be an uncomfortable reality for team, player, and fans alike.

Patriots fans haven’t had to sweat out a free agency involving their beloved quarterback like this before.

Brady has signed below-market deals, up until this point, in order to help field a Super Bowl-caliber team around him every year. The idea of him leaving New England has never been a real possibility like it was on Thursday.

Now, he wants what is his, and he is done leaving money on the table. Can New England accommodate him financially, while also surrounding him with the offensive weapons he desires? That has never been as big of a question as it is presently.

For Brady, money aside, does he really want to leave New England and go to a new team for a couple of years and have to adjust to a new head coach, new teammates, and work to get everyone on the same page?

For the player that has skipped all voluntary offseason activities the last two years and shown a greater inclination to spend more time with family over team, that’s a big question. If Brady is going to leave for a bigger payday somewhere else, it will come at a cost. He will need to work harder than he has the last two offseasons if he wants to have the same level of success that he has had in New England. He will need to be more involved in OTAs and minicamp. Will that be a price he is willing to pay?

And for the Patriots, especially owner Robert Kraft, are they really ready to let the greatest player in franchise history go without fighting tooth and nail to keep him? How will it look if the franchise lets Brady walk after getting away with paying him below market value nearly his entire career?

Both team and player has to look in the mirror and ask some honest questions of themselves before they can head to the bargaining table and try to strike a deal, which is to say, this process is not anywhere near over.

Reports like the ones that came out this morning are nothing more than the two sides leaking things to the media to try and apply pressure to the other side.

For Tom Brady to leave New England, and for the franchise to let him walk, that will require both sides to swallow a bitter pill that neither side has shown any willingness to do in the past. Can they do that now? We are getting closer to finding out, but don’t let media reports like Thursday’s sound the alarms in your head just yet.