Against all odds (and probably against common sense), the NFL free agency period will start on time this week. Monday marks the start of the legal tampering period, when teams can reach out and communicate with prospective free agents and potentially agree to contracts in principal, even if they can't sign on the dotted line until Wednesday.
This also means that the Tom Brady free agency ride will very likely be coming to an end quite soon. In recent days, the Titans were taken out of the Brady race after signing Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal they'll probably regret. Generally, this was the only landing spot for Brady that made sense on every front -- the coach is an old friend, there's talent at offensive skill positions, and they have a capable defense in a winnable division. Every other possible destination (Tampa Bay, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Chargers) comes with a caveat that Brady will have to accept, like a struggling defense or being in the same division as Patrick Mahomes.
With that in mind, a return to New England seems more likely than it did a week ago. Unless you're Adam Schefter, that is. Schefter went on SportsCenter this morning and sounded very, very skeptical that Brady would re-sign with the Patriots this far into the process.
"Again, we're in the middle of March. We're approaching the start of free agency, and Tom Brady does not have anything close to a deal in New England yet," said Schefter. "Now, I know people think he's going back to New England. What makes them think that? ... Why do people think now that, all of sudden, at the 24th hour something is going to get done that hasn't gotten done in the previous weeks and months. I don't understand that! All these teams now that have been laying in wait all are going to have their crack and chance at Tom Brady.
"I know he's going to be 43, and I know he's not as young as he used to be. But he's still the greatest quarterback of all time. Other teams, for the first time in his career, are going to be allowed to talk to him and try to persuade him from leaving New England, and I think there's a real chance someone will be able to do that."
Well then! This is about as strong of a statement as you're going to get from Schefter short of outright saying there isn't a chance he goes back. The line of thinking makes sense, too, even without the connections Schefter has. If the Patriots wanted Brady back bar none, they would have given him everything he wanted and signed a deal already.
But that isn't how Bill Belichick likes to operate. He's treating Brady the same as he's treated every other free agent in New England -- he's going to let Brady see what's out there, and if he feels the Patriots can present a competitive offer, he'll do just that. Otherwise, well ... Patriots fans won't be pleased.