Tom Brady is biggest star of NFL scouting combine

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Predictably, the Tom Brady rumor mill has already metastasized out of control.

This is what happens when 32 NFL teams are mixed with a legion of agents and media, approaching the doorstep of a free agency that will feature the league’s most recognizable star. People grasp for any piece of information, whether it makes sense or not. That is what is driving the Brady maelstrom now, with 13 teams having been named in media reports as either being a significant Brady suitor or having some level of serious interest.

You read that correctly: In the past month, no fewer than 13 teams have been the subject of some level of sourced speculation involving the Brady sweepstakes.

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shakes hands with a fan as he leaves the field after losing an NFL wild-card playoff football game to the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shakes hands with a fan as he leaves the field after losing an NFL wild-card playoff football game to the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

About those Cowboys, Giants reports

Now we’re getting to territory that makes little sense after the New York Giants entered into the fray via an NFL Network report on Thursday.

The Dallas Cowboys’ inclusion — thanks to an extremely thin Michael Irvin report — should have been the height of the Brady insanity. At least the Cowboys had two things going for them that created a residue of possibility: A sometimes impetuous multi-billionaire owner/general manager in Jerry Jones; and a quarterback impasse that is orbiting a $40 million annual salary for Dak Prescott. Still, getting Brady into Dallas would be a controversial moonshot driven by the franchise’s worst impulses, not a smartly calculated move to build sustained success.

Which brings us back to the Giants and the report that the Giants have been named as a potential team with interest in Brady.

I have no doubt that some sources moved to peg Brady as an option with the Giants, especially after new Giants head coach Joe Judge declined to throw his weight behind Daniel Jones as the team’s starting quarterback. That kind of stance has quickly blown the needle off the Brady rumor scale in the past month. If a head coach won’t commit to his starter, he’s instantaneously punching his ticket to enter into the Brady drama. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Giants have ample salary-cap space to sign Brady and a head coach who has years of familiarity with him.

But this connection also smacks of the Brady rumor mill peaking, which it almost seemed destined to do at this week’s NFL scouting combine. There’s a simple truth to what is happening with Brady right now: Nobody knows what is real and what is fiction.

We know some things about the Giants that make this one feel like a rumor mill special. First, they rolled the dice on Jones with the No. 6 pick in the draft and got some stellar returns — one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history by a quarterback, including 3,027 yards passing and 24 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions. Jones also lost eight fumbles, which is a worry but he also showed enough promise to be considered a cornerstone of the building process in 2020. Now, the Giants are suddenly going to bail on that or shelve Jones for what would likely be at least a two-year run with Brady? They’re going to bunt two significantly vital years of development by taking away Jones’ starting snaps in 2020 and 2021? And they’re going to throw away the vital financial team-building asset of having a starting quarterback on a rookie deal by paying a 43-year-old starter more than $30 million a season?

If the Giants are truly planning to do that, they might as well fire general manager Dave Gettleman before free agency starts and quickly move to let Judge name his own GM because that’s the environment they’d be creating by scuttling the early stages of Jones’ development.

With Jones having represented such a bright spot in 2019, none of that makes sense. Then again, neither do a litany of the “in the mix” Brady rumors. The Cowboys storyline seemed like nonsense from the start. Just like the Miami Dolphins, who are working from the ground up, and the New York Jets, who would be stupid to reverse course on Sam Darnold. Yet both of those teams nonsensically had some kind of loose tether tied to Brady over the past several weeks. A tether that has already been largely discarded, along with rumors about the Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears. All of those were spun up at least gently as potential Brady destinations, too.

The 5 most serious contenders

Perhaps the most consistent part of those rumors was their loosely founded reasoning, which set a fitting stage for what has happened this week in Indianapolis, where the Brady rumors have intensified in their uncertainty. Indeed, the question asked most often this week when speaking to NFL teams about free agency has been, What are you hearing about the quarterbacks? While that might not sound like a Brady question, that’s precisely what it is. Everyone knows Brady is domino No. 1 on the quarterback market. And that has left half the league wondering what he’s going to do, almost entirely because his potential landing spot could have a cascading effect on where everyone else is taking snaps in 2020.

Those ripples could determine the future of the Las Vegas Raiders’ Derek Carr, the Tennessee Titans’ Ryan Tannehill, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jacoby Brissett, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ James Winston, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers, the New Orleans Saints’ Teddy Bridgewater and beyond. The fallout from that shuffling could create unexpected trade opportunities for the Panthers with Cam Newton or the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton.

It’s those seam-bursting possibilities that have had NFL sources this week strongly speculating Brady to land all over the map. The Titans continue to be pegged as a serious possibility, alongside the Colts, Raiders and Chargers. A popular dark horse that is picking up traction behind that quartet is the Buccaneers, whose braintrust has been very deliberate about leaving their quarterback plans wide open while meeting with the media this week.

And lest we forget in all of this, the Patriots are still arguably the most logical destination in all of this. Particularly considering that the franchise’s ace in the hole, owner Robert Kraft, convinced offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to renege on the Colts’ head-coaching job two years ago. And that was after McDaniels had already started hiring his assistant coaches. Given his shot to make Brady a final offer, Kraft’s powers of persuasion shouldn’t be downplayed.

The bottom line: There are more than two weeks to go before any of the guesses and dot-connecting finds real traction, which at this rate leaves just enough time for the Brady rumor mill to consume the rest of the league, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

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