Ratto: Day 1 of Lockdown America, and The Brady Card has been played

Like the rest of us, the NFL is now dealing with limited inventory

Ray Ratto
March 17, 2020 - 7:54 am
The Tom Brady Card has been played

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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The National Football League is spending its best offseason capital way too fast. DeAndre Hopkins, DeForest Buckner, Stefon Diggs and now Tom Brady are changing locations. The shelves are being all but emptied in a flurry of panic movement because… well, because the NFL's deadline is making everyone scratch their personal itches with unusual and very public zeal.

Especially Brady.

His weariness of the Patriot Way, his relationship with Bill Belichick, his middle-aged wanderlust, his sense that the Patriots are the rearview mirror of football excellence, his desire to close his career in a place where he transitions to his post-football career — they are all being piled into Lego sculptures about why he wanted to be an Ex-Pat.

And while he might have been rejected by San Francisco, he will be regarded as a quick fix for someone, and that decision will probably be made much sooner rather than later. That choice aside, the inventory of big moments in the free agency period already seems exhausted, leaving only the threadbare audience choices of deciding whether Belichick or Bill O'Brien comes out of this week as the bigger public ogre.

America's attachment to Brady has always been a bit at arm's length. He was the public face of the new evil empire, as polarizing as he was enjoyed. He was fascinating rather than lovable, except of course in New England, but he was endlessly fascinating in part because ESPN and CBS and Fox and NBC and the NFL's pundit army always made sure to put him front and center. He eventually became the hen in a chicken-and-egg argument that never seemed to end because nobody dared walk too far away from it. He was one of those rare athletes who made news simply by having a name, like LeBron, and Messi, and Durant, and Ronaldo, and in an earlier time Bonds, and Kobe, and Favre, and Gretzky.

And he becomes one of the vast majority of athletes who doesn't finish his career where he began it, either, because ultimately the system always wins. As close as he came to beating it, especially when he helped force the J.R. Garoppolo deal, he could not outlast Belichick and decided in the end that he didn't have to. He'd be a Buc, or a Colt, or something else, in a uniform that will never fit him quite right.

If he had truly wanted the 49ers, he found out that that love was not reciprocated in a contractually binding way. If he had wanted the Raiders, they sensed otherwise and reached out for Marcus Mariota. If he had wanted the Titans or Vikings, they spent money on their incumbents. His destination, wherever it is, is as much as guess as it has always been.

That, then, is the last bit of jolting NFL news there will be until sports is revivified in a post-COVID world. Not the rest of the free agent wedge, not the draft, not the schedule release, none of it. On Day 2, the league ran out of shiny things to show us. The NFL is finally like the rest of us, dealing in a lockdown world with limited inventory.

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