Tom Brady has a surprising answer to the most anticipated question of the NFL offseason. The six-time Super Bowl champion announced Tuesday that he’s not returning to the Patriots, ending his 20-year era with New England.
Which team will he quarterback in 2020? It will become official Wednesday, but the mystery seemed to be solved when reports linked Brady to a blockbuster deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New England was the odds-on favorite to re-sign Brady as a free agent, according to a prop bet posted in February at the PointsBet, Westgate and William Hill sportsbooks. Tampa Bay opened at 40/1 odds at the Westgate. An underdog will cash at a nice price, but will it not be the Los Angeles Chargers, who were among the favorites, or a surprise team.
“When we first started talking about this, I thought the most probable team was the Chargers,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “Tampa is a little surprising to me.”
Sherman adjusted the Buccaneers’ odds to win the Super Bowl from 40/1 to 14/1, but not because he’s expecting more greatness from Brady.
“It’s the perception out there. I don’t think he’s worth much, but people will bet based on perception,” Sherman said. “We made a few changes. I don’t think many people will be looking to bet New England.”
The SuperBook raised the Patriots from 14/1 to 30/1. The other teams reportedly in the hunt for Brady were the Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins. Sherman moved the Chargers from 60/1 to 25/1 on Tuesday morning — and back to 40/1 by Tuesday night.
“I’ve been saying all along the Chargers make the most sense for Brady,” Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. ”I really thought Brady was going to LA.”
The Chargers recently parted ways with free-agent quarterback Philip Rivers and plan to start Tyrod Taylor unless they make a bold move. Rivers has agreed to a one-year, $25 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers also hold the No. 6 pick in next month’s draft and have shown interest in Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Rivers led the team to a 5-11 record last season, including 0-6 in the AFC West. The Chargers do have enough playmakers — wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, tight end Hunter Henry and running back Austin Ekeler — and hoped to lure Brady to a major market.
The Buccaneers went 7-9 last year but have a lot to offer, too, aside from around $30 million per year. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians is a so-called quarterback whisperer, and the Bucs will pack more offensive firepower than Brady had in New England last season.
But Sherman said he suspected Hollywood would be a bigger attraction for Brady, as it was for LeBron James when he signed with the Lakers two years ago.
“He could do the LeBron thing and go to LA to play to end his career,” Sherman said. “The Chargers are dying in that market. Brady would put fans in the seats and sell jerseys.”
PointsBet in New Jersey and Circa Sports in Las Vegas opened season win totals before the NFL’s free-agency period. Tampa Bay’s win total was 7.5 at PointsBet prior to Tuesday, when Circa reopened the Bucs at 8.5 (Over -140).
Aside from NFC South opponents, the Buccaneers will face a schedule that includes road games against the Bears, Broncos, Giants, Lions and Raiders in addition to home games against the Chargers, Chiefs, Packers, Rams and Vikings.
New England’s win total was 10.5 at PointsBet prior to Tuesday. After a 12-4 season and now facing a question mark at quarterback for the first time in two decades, coach Bill Belichick will be challenged to win nine or 10 games. Aside from AFC East opponents, the Patriots will face a schedule that includes road games against the Chargers, Chiefs, Rams, Seahawks and Texans in addition to home games against the Broncos, Cardinals, Raiders, Ravens and 49ers.
Before the Brady-to-the-Buccaneers reports surfaced, Sherman said. “I wouldn’t rule out the Raiders.” Still, Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden went in a different direction.
Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive who worked in the Patriots organization from 2014-16, said two weeks ago he expected Brady to leave New England and named the Raiders among the favorites to sign him.
Las Vegas agreed to a deal Monday with former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who’s expected to compete with Derek Carr for the starting job. However, Lombardi has said several times he thinks the Raiders have little to no interest in keeping Carr.
“I can’t imagine Brady in a Bucs uniform,” Lombardi said. “It turns my stomach.”
Tampa Bay is splitting from free agent Jameis Winston, who finished with 33 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions last season. Winston’s 60.7 completion percentage ranked 28th in the NFL.
Brady, who turns 43 in August, passed for 24 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season, when his 60.8 completion percentage ranked 27th in the league. Brady ranks second all time in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Drew Brees, the NFL career leader in all three categories and last season’s league leader in completion percentage at 74.3, re-signed with New Orleans on Tuesday.
“Maybe Brady could surprise me and be better than I think he can be this year,” Sherman said.