The Patriots deadline hanging over Tom Brady’s free-agency decision

The Patriots don’t want another Rob Gronkowski situation this offseason.

New England wants an answer from Tom Brady on whether he will return to the team by March 16, when the legal tampering period begins before free agency, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday. The Patriots did not know for sure Gronkowski was retiring when free agency opened last season, and the tight end position wound up a weakness for the team all season.

Brady has said he is not retiring, but the 42-year-old may not be finishing his career in New England, either. This offseason is Brady’s first true foray into free agency, and he plans to be open-minded about the process.

“Here’s the situation: I don’t believe the New England Patriots are waiting until March 16 to get an answer from Tom Brady,” Schefter said on ESPN’s “Get Up,” according to The Providence Journal.

“Last year, Rob Gronkowski wound up retiring in late March. I don’t know the conversations they did and didn’t have before, but New England missed the window on free-agent tight ends. So, I don’t think they’re going to let Tom Brady go to free agency, all of a sudden, sign with Team X, and then on March 20, say ‘Well, what do we do at quarterback now?’ That’s not the way that organization operates.”

Jarrett Stidham, who played in garbage time as a rookie last season, is the only viable quarterback on the Patriots roster now. Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater are among the top names expected to be available in free agency.

That list may also include Brady. The Patriots would like to find out soon if that is the case.

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