Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots talks with Tom Brady. (Kathryn Riley/Getty)
Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots talks with Tom Brady. (Kathryn Riley/Getty)
By Evan Bleier / March 17, 2020 12:54 pm

Because every major American sport that’s typically played at this time of year is now in absentia thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re shifting our attention to the most important signings, trades, rumors and trends around the NFL via a dedicated daily column. This is Free Agency Watch.

Though some people have picked up a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, it seems Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and other members of the New England Patriots organization including owner Robert Kraft went with Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

Though the writing has been on the wall for weeks, Brady made it official on Tuesday morning that he will be leaving New England after two decades with the team for, at least at this point, parts unknown. (UPDATE: It looks like Brady is heading to Tampa Bay to play for the Bucs.)

In a statement he released on his social media accounts, Brady thanked New England fans, Belichick and Kraft but said his “football journey will take place elsewhere.”

In a statement of his own, Kraft said he had “hoped this day would never come” and Brady would end his career after another Super Bowl but “the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow that dream to become a reality.”

Belichick also had a statement ready to go. “Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation,” he said in part. “Tom’s success as a player and his character as a person are exceptional … Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.”

While it’s nice Brady, Kraft and Belichick all had kind things to say, none of them are addressing the Gilette Stadium-sized elephant in the room: the Patriots didn’t want Brady to come back. 

While no one will ever go on the record to say that, at least not anytime soon, it’s been pretty clear the Patriots wanted to move on without Brady in 2020, the same way they wanted to after drafting Jimmy Garopollo as his replacement in 2014. 

To that end, New England insider Tom E. Curran reports the team never really made an honest effort to re-sign Brady before he officially becomes a free agent on Wednesday. 

“In the end, a tangible effort by the Patriots to keep Tom Brady in New England never happened,” Curran said. “No negotiation. Just the intimation that it was on Brady to say what he wanted. For Brady, that stance spoke volumes.”

After 20 years of giving in at the negotiating table, Brady, for once, refused to bend the knee to Belichick and Kraft and answered silence from the team with silence of his own. Until Tuesday morning …

Elsewhere in the NFL, there have been a ton of other major moves you may have missed thanks to all the coverage of Brady.

In Dallas, the Cowboys agreed to a five-year deal with Amari Cooper that includes $60 million guaranteed. The 25-year-old receiver reportedly turned down “significantly” more money from the Redskins in order to re-up with Dallas. Though Cooper isn’t quite the highest-paid WR in the league, his $20 million salary is only slightly less than Julio Jones‘ $22 million per year.

In a related move, Randall Cobb, formerly of the Cowboys, agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract with the Houston Texans. Though he isn’t as good, Cobb, 30, will slide in as the replacement for DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded away to the Cardinals in one of the worst deals of the NFL offseason.

In a much better deal, the Vikings dealt wideout Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for a king’s ransom of draft picks (a first-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-rounder).

Other major moves include Drew Brees and the Saints agreeing to a $50-million deal that will keep him in New Orleans for the next two seasons, the Panthers giving quarterback Cam Newton permission to seek a trade to a new team and the Bears signing defensive end Robert Quinn, formerly of the Cowboys, to a five-year, $70 million contract that includes $30 million in guaranteed money.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, formerly of the Titans, has agreed to a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders to take over as the backup to Derek Carr, longtime Chargers QB Philip Rivers is close to finalizing a deal with the Colts and QB Teddy Bridgewater is close to agreeing to terms with the Panthers.

Bridgewater’s deal will reportedly net him somewhere in the range of $60 million over three years while Indy will pay Rivers roughly $25 million per season. 

In a few lesser moves, the Jaguars agreed to terms with LB Joe Schobert, formerly of the Browns, on a five-year, $53.75 million contract, the Dolphins agreed to a deal with former Bears and Eagles running back Jordan Howard on a pact that’s worth “north” of $10 million and the Eagles won’t exercise their 2020 contract option for safety Malcolm Jenkins.

Also, former Cowboys tight end and Monday Night Football announcer Jason Witten has agreed to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders, who are coached by MNF alum Jon Gruden.

In another surprising move, the normally tight-fisted Bengals splurged on defensive tackle D.J. Reader, formerly of the Texans, to the tune of $53 million over four years.

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