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2020 NFL free agency: What Tom Brady’s departure means for the Patriots

Related: BREAKING: Tom Brady will leave the Patriots

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Tom Brady will go down in league history as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game: in 20 years with the New England Patriots, he led the team to six Super Bowl titles and set numerous records along the way that may never be broken again. He was not just the face of an organization, but also the entire league. From 2020 on, however, he will play elsewhere as he announced via a social media post on Tuesday morning.

There will be plenty of time to dissect this decision and what it entails, but for now let’s quickly break down what the Patriots-Brady divorce means for New England.

New England needs a new starting quarterback

The on-field biggest takeaway from Brady announcing his departure from New England is that the team will have to find a new quarterback — something it did not have to worry about since Brady took over as the starter in 2001. The Patriots, of course, do have some options with two quarterbacks currently under contract:

Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler

A fourth-round draft pick last spring, Stidham showed some promise over the course of his first training camp but eventually saw only limited action during the regular season as Brady’s primary backup. However, his work behind the scenes was well received within the organization and given his price tag it would not be a surprise if New England decided to move forward with the 23-year-old as the new starting quarterback and Brady’s heir.

Of course, Kessler and potential free agency or draft investments also will play a role in this. So while Stidham appears to have the inside lane to take on the role, nothing is set in stone just yet.

New England loses one of its locker room leaders

While Brady’s on-field impact is well documented and his success over the years speaks for itself, the impact his departure will have on New England’s locker room cannot be underestimated. Re-signing Devin McCourty and fellow team captain Matthew Slater should help soften the blow, but the future Hall of Famer leaving will still create an enormous leadership void on the offensive side of the ball. Veteran players such as wide receiver Julian Edelman and center David Andrews will play a role in helping fill it.

The Patriots have to eat a $13.5 million dead cap hit

For the time being, Brady remains under contract with the Patriots but his deal will void before he hits free agency on Wednesday afternoon. And once that happens, his entire signing bonus proration of $13.5 million will hit the team’s salary cap — a number that would have been split up over the 2020 and 2021 seasons had Brady re-signed. While this obviously is not an ideal scenario, New England does have some flexibility with the cap.

Not only did the team get a $3.25 million credit from the Aaron Hernandez grievance this week, the Patriots can also create more salary cap space by extending veteran players. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Stephon Gilmore appear to be prime candidates, while reaching a long-term deal with guard Joe Thuney, who is currently on the books with a $14.78 million cap hit after receiving the franchise tag on Monday, also would help.

As things stand right now, however, the Patriots are in a precarious situations considering that Thuney’s tag and Devin McCourty’s new contract are worth around $22 million in cap space combined.

Brady will factor in the compensatory draft picks calculation

While Brady announced his departure from New England on Tuesday, he will still leave the team the traditional way: by signing a new deal once free agency opens on Wednesday afternoon. As such, he will factor into the compensatory draft picks formula and as part of the new collective bargaining agreement could net the Patriots as much as a third-round pick in the 2021 draft. Together with fellow free agency departures Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins he will generate a solid return for the team.

Josh McDaniels might have to change his offense

Brady may not necessarily be the modern NFL quarterback due to his limited athleticism, but he excelled in the Patriots’ offense nevertheless because it was tailor-made for his strengths: based on precision routes as well as reading the field and defense to find weak spots. With the heart of the offense no longer available, however, coordinator Josh McDaniels may have to change it in order to make the next quarterback feel comfortable — whether he is named Jarrett Stidham or not.

McDaniels, of course, has game-planned with non-Tom Brady quarterbacks in the past. When Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season, for example, New England turned to Matt Cassel. Eight years later, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett lined up under center while Brady was serving a four-game suspension. The Garoppolo-led attack was similar to the one with the starter at the helm, but Brissett’s Patriots offense looked a lot different and based on running the football with both the backs and the QB.

Could something similar be in the cards for the unit this time? It certainly seems possibly, but the next passer will decide what the offense will look like.