What's next for Tom Brady after Patriots loss?
It will be the story that dominates the NFL offseason: What's next for Tom Brady?
The 42-year-old's quest to win an unprecedented seventh ring at Super Bowl LIV in Miami next month was dashed by the Tennessee Titans, who beat Brady's New England Patriots 20-13 in the Wild Card Round on Saturday.
With Brady currently set to be a free agent in 2020, there remains a possibility that he could begin his 21st NFL season away from Bill Belichick's team.
Here we assess Brady's potential options for next season.
Speaking after the defeat to the Titans, Brady had said retirement was "pretty unlikely... Hopefully unlikely".
The plyometrics fanatic has redefined what was considered possible for forty-somethings in the NFL, exulting the virtues of his 'TB12 Method' and speaking of his desire to play until he is 45.
But Father Time seems to be catching Brady, who threw just 24 touchdowns in the 2019 regular season, the fewest he has managed across a full campaign since he posted the same number in 2006.
Brady is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a six-time Super Bowl champion and widely regarded as the best quarterback ever; at this point, carrying on may only harm his legacy. But will he want to bow out with a home playoff loss...?
STAY IN NEW ENGLAND
The most likely option is that Brady returns to Foxborough next season.
His slightly disappointing numbers this season come with caveats, most notably the lack of weapons in the passing game, the less-than-stellar offensive line and a ground attack that's remained, well, grounded.
New England drafted Jarrett Stidham last year but he was benched on his debut after throwing a pick-six from his third attempt. Asking him to step in for Brady at this stage appears too much.
Perhaps the Patriots would be better off surrounding Brady with a better cast and making one final Super Bowl push. Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown may just be up for that too.
JOIN THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
If Brady is to go elsewhere in 2020, it will almost certainly be to a Super Bowl contender.
The Colts can be just that. They went 10-6 in 2018 and won a playoff game and, despite losing Andrew Luck to retirement on the eve of the 2019 season, they still went 7-9 this term and would probably have made the playoffs had they had better play at the quarterback position.
Indianapolis have no long-term commitment to current starter Jacoby Brissett, who was one of Brady's former backups in New England.
The Colts have a fine offensive line, a roster stacked with young stars ready to make the next step and an offensive-minded head coach. Brady could do a lot worse, but would Indy - who are also projected to have the most cap space for 2020 - be keen given the current regime's desire to build through the draft?
Look at this absolute unit.— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 31, 2019
All five offensive linemen. All 16 games. pic.twitter.com/25BCsM10KT
JOIN THE LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Another AFC team with a possible opening at the game's most important position.
The Chargers, like the Colts, made the playoffs in 2018 and won a game, yet they were hugely disappointing when going 5-11 in 2019.
Philip Rivers might be four years younger than Brady but he looked far older this season and the Chargers can easily cut ties and look elsewhere in 2020.
Los Angeles may just be an appealing destination to California-born Brady; after all, it was to NBA veteran LeBron James.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 30, 2019
we young and we hungry
JOIN THE LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden likes to work with veteran quarterbacks - see Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson - and 'Chucky' has offered no guarantees over current incumbent Derek Carr's future.
What better way to mark the move to a new stadium in a new city by rolling the dice and bringing Brady to Sin City?
The Raiders have a stout offensive line, a brilliant young running back in Josh Jacobs and enough cap space to sign a player of Brady's calibre.
One thing's for sure, if Brady ends up in Las Vegas, former Raider Brown will not be following him after the way he burned his bridges...
2020 Only Want To Play With @TomBrady Or No Play— AB (@AB84) January 5, 2020
JOIN THE CAROLINA PANTHERS
A left-field suggestion, perhaps, but the Panthers have one thing that could work in their favour: A head coaching vacancy.
New England's current offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, is reportedly set to interview with the Panthers next week and both he and Brady may like the idea of joining forces and proving their worth away from Belichick.
The Cleveland Browns and New York Giants are thought to be keen on McDaniels too, though they both have young signal callers.
If Brady wants a 'home away from home' and McDaniels lands in Carolina, the Panthers might just fit the bill.