The Tom Brady sweepstakes will soon begin.
While the Patriots and the greatest quarterback of all time work to figure out whether they should or shouldn’t part ways in the 2020 NFL offseason, the situation feels like Peyton Manning in 2012 all over again.
Manning at that time faced an uncertain future with the Colts coming off his neck injury, and in big-name NBA free agency style, he had his pick of the ideal place to continue his Hall of Fame career with a little more success. He chose the Broncos, and four seasons later, he added one more AFC championship and a second Super Bowl ring before retiring.
MORE: Ranking 2020 free-agent quarterbacks
The difference between Manning in 2012 and Brady now is that Brady is six years older and already showing signs of non-injury related physical decline. But that doesn’t change the fact that when he ultimately picks his 2020 team, the Patriots or otherwise, he will be looking for the best combination of coaching, personnel and playing environment to help him end his career with at least a seventh ring.
Incorporating but not married to the early futures odds on where Brady will play next season, here’s ranking the top non-New England free agency fits for Brady, from No. 1 through No. 31.
Tom Brady: The top 12 for No. 12
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Could Brady pull a LeBron James and move to LA? The Chargers don’t need much retooling beyond the offensive line to return to contention after falling to 5-11 in 2019. Philip Rivers is a pending free agent, and his turnover-plagued season arguably is what held the Chargers back as they continued to be on brand in playing close games. The offense would be loaded with weapons even if Melvin Gordon isn’t re-signed, and the defense is championship-caliber with a healthy Derwin James.
There are no Patriots ties to draw Brady to the Chargers, but the challenge of raising a dormant AFC power in a division where Brady can compete with Patrick Mahomes would be fun and rather realistic should it be evident a return to New England fades.
2. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts tapped into the Patriots’ offensive system when they traded for former Brady backup Jacoby Brissett. They did give Brissett a two-year, $30 million deal when he was playing well early in the season, but that was before his knee injury and some struggles late, leaving just enough questions going into 2020.
There’s a lot to like about Frank Reich’s team after its injury-riddled season. The Colts have a solid defense that needs only a few upgrades, and they would commit whatever resources needed with plenty of cap space to make the offense skill support pleasing for Brady.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders saw the best and worst of Derek Carr in the same season. Despite the team improving to 7-9 without Antonio Brown, coach Jon Gruden once again refrained from showing total commitment to Carr going forward. While that has raised rumors of the Raiders drafting a viable replacement in 2020, given with their offensive and defensive uptick and sitting on more pleasing salary-cap and draft capital, they can feel like they’re close to winning big.
With the marquee move to Vegas, Brady is a quicker means to restore the Raiders’ proud franchise championship history. The intensity of Gruden and Brady can come together for a common goal. Brady can take No. 12 to honor Ken Stabler and potentially bring his playoff legend full circle. The Raiders were on the other side of the “Tuck Rule” game that launched his GOAT-ness.
4. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Fitzpatrick brought life to their offense as a 37-year-old bridge quarterback, down to leading the Dolphins to a comeback victory over Brady’s Patriots in Week 17. If he made the most of the Dolphins’ limited talent, imagine what Brady could do in Miami in 2020, as there’s likely to be a massive personnel upgrade with tons of salary-cap space and three first-round draft picks.
It might feel odd for Brady to go another AFC East team, especially one that has been a nemesis. But with the former Patriots duo of Brian Flores and Chris Grier in Miami, Brady bringing success to the Dolphins as a Patriots foe has to be considered. The fact that No. 12 (Bob Griese) is already retired for the team is an obstacle around which Brady can work.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians doesn’t sound like he is totally down with bringing back Jameis Winston, focused less on the 5,109 yards and 33 TDs and more on the costly 35 turnovers. The team showed incredible defensive improvement with Todd Bowles and is loaded in the passing game with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman and O.J. Howard. With some cleaner QB play, the Bucs can shoot up from 7-9.
Brady and Arians could work well together as experienced offensive leaders, and there’s also a Patriots tie with general manager Jason Licht. Some older guys retire to Florida. Between Miami and Tampa, Brady would have sneaky-good options to continue his career in the Sunshine State if needed.
6. Chicago Bears
The Bears have a strong defense and are in win-now mode. The offense has promise with a good set of skill players that include Allen Robinson, David Montgomery, Anthony Miller, Tarik Cohen and Riley Ridley. Mitchell Trubisky held Chicago back for much of the year until getting it together late in the season.
The NFC North is tough, but only a year removed from taking the division with coach Matt Nagy, the Bears are in the same rebound mode as that of the Chargers and Colts. Brady being the archrival No. 12 to Rodgers in the same division also would be fun to see.
7. Denver Broncos
John Elway may have finally hit on a QB by drafting Drew Lock in the second round in 2019. But Elway has proved to be aggressive with veteran QBs on the market, making it work on the highest level with Manning but seeing it backfire with Case Keenum and Joe Flacco.
Like Gruden and Brady could be, in the same division, Elway and Brady would be something else as an all-time competitive combination. The Broncos have a solid enough defense and promising young offense for one to think Brady can take them to big things after they finished 7-9, just like the Raiders.
8. Tennessee Titans
Ryan Tannehill keeps giving the Titans more reasons to re-sign him to a reasonable long-term deal after he broke out as backup-turned-starter working on only a one-year, $2 million deal. They already know he works well in the offense, and because of how little he was paid, even a big raise would make him cheaper than Brady.
But if Tannehill wants to test a now better market for him elsewhere, and with Macus Mariota a pending free agent, too, Mike Vrabel will need a QB. As a “Patriot Way” team led by a former Patriots teammate, the Titans need to be play for now.
9. Detroit Lions
You can’t write off Matthew Stafford’s back injury as something minor in his mostly durable career until there are reports of him working to full strength. Stafford is only 31, but keep in mind a similar ailment cut short Tony Romo’s career.
Should the Lions need a QB, the former Patriots duo of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn should have a little lure for Brady to return near his old college stomping grounds at Michigan.
10. Carolina Panthers
Had the team hired Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels instead of former Baylor coach Matt Rhule, it would have shot up this list. But Cam Newton’s future with the team is still a little cloudy, and so is whether they will draft a QB in the first round of the 2020 draft.
As it is with the QB situation, the Panthers might prefer a major veteran bridge upgrade over either Kyle Allen or Will Grier.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s hard to read them on whether Gardner Minshew is their future franchise QB, but it’s clear they already have sold on Nick Foles with major buyer’s remorse. They would require a quick, big defensive rebuild to draw Brady, but the running game and underrated receiving corps have sneaky appeal.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger, 37, plans to come back from a season lost to an elbow injury, but you still never totally know with him given how much more wear and tear he has than Brady does.
What would be weird is that No. 12 in Pittsburgh is firmly associated with another big Super Bowl winner, Terry Bradshaw. Given their identical initials and last names that start the same way, that surely can work in some TB12 form.
Tom Brady: The no-gos for the GOAT
13. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles saw Carson Wentz get hurt again come playoff time and didn’t have Foles to help them, but Brady’s not taking a supersub role.
14. Washington Redskins
Would Ron Rivera use Brady has a bridge for Dwayne Haskins, likely with a Chase Young-powered defense? That makes more sense than Brady working for a team owner like Daniel Snyder.
15. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield does not yet deserve to be benched or replaced. Their ‘NFL 100’ commercial bit with the Super Bowl rings will remain his only collaboration with Brady.
16. New York Giants
The hiring of Joe Judge gives them a familiar Patriots presence, but this team now belongs to Daniel Jones, not Brady’s old nemesis, Eli Manning.
17. New York Jets
Sam Darnold is an inconsistent-but-promising passer. The Jets are not about to whisper him with the division’s quarterback dean.
18. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen is one untamed, wild stallion, but the Bills are not about to whisper him with the division’s quarterback dean.
19. Arizona Cardinals
Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is attached to the skill set of Kyler Murray.
20. Minnesota Vikings
Brady will not be the new man on the Minnesota Vikings. We like that Kirk Cousins is living up to this contract. He won’t be letting a Wolverine crash his Sparty party.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Brady won’t be going to a rebuilding team that’s bad around the QB and focused on the future with Joe Burrow.
22. Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff is still their best answer after his strong rebound late in the season for Sean McVay, despite the LA factor being in play for Brady.
23. Atlanta Falcons
After that whole Super Bowl 51 comeback thing, we can’t see Dan Quinn and Brady working together. And, oh yeah, recent NFL MVP Matt Ryan is still in town.
24. San Francisco 49ers
Unless Brady just wants to chill out behind his burgeoning buddy Jimmy Garoppolo, he is not returning home to the Bay Area this way.
25. New Orleans Saints
The only 40-something free agent quarterback who Sean Payton will have eyes for is Drew Brees.
MORE: Candid comments from Brady on his future
26. Dallas Cowboys
Between Dak Prescott and the indirect shots Brady has taken at Mike McCarthy’s Packers offense in the past, we’ll say Jerry Jones’ team is a hard pass.
27. Houston Texans
They already have Deshaun Watson putting the team on his back.
28. Green Bay Packers
They have a Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame quarterback of their own who still has some great years left.
29. Seattle Seahwks
They have a Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame quarterback of their own who’s in his prime.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
They’re kind of good with Mahomes.
31. Baltimore Ravens
Brady can’t do the things Lamar Jackson is doing.