Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick will want a decision on Tom Brady to happen sooner rather than later.

The beloved New England quarterback is set to become a free agent for the first time in his 20-year career this offseason. The Patriots technically have until March 18 at 4 p.m. to ink a new contract with Brady before he hits free agency, but the team has incentive to act earlier.

Brady earned $23 million in 2019 and would carry a dead cap hit of $13.5 million if he is not on the roster by March 18. However, if the team were to re-sign him before the free agency period begins, they could elect to distribute the cap hit over multiple years as opposed to having it absorbed entirely against their 2020 cap.

As of last week, the two parties had yet to engage in any contract talks, sources told ESPN.

A stipulation of Brady’s most recent contract prohibits the team from applying the franchise tag, which some speculate could hint toward his intention to visit with other teams. He stands to earn upward of $30 million a year on the open market, but if he wants to test the waters of free agency, he would have to wait until after March 18 to take official visits with other teams, per league tampering rules.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks with owner Robert Kraft.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks with owner Robert Kraft.Getty Images

A number of quarterback-needy teams are expected to pitch Brady should that deadline pass. The Los Angeles Chargers, who officially moved on from longtime starter Philip Rivers this week, Las Vegas Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins have all been rumored as landing spots for the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Brady’s agents are allowed to negotiate with other teams beginning on March 16 at 4 p.m., which would give him the chance to feel out the market for 48 hours without taking visits.

At 42 years old, Brady’s remaining seasons as a viable starter are dwindling and he has made it clear his priority is to win now. He openly expressed frustration with the team’s offense during the season and said “I still have more to prove” on Instagram after the Patriots’ playoff run was ended by the Titans in the wild-card round.

On Feb. 4, he posted an Instagram story that read, “Back at @tb12sports to get to work. I’m not wearing a blazer to the Super Bowl next year.”

“He wants to see the team spend on some weapons” and ultimately wants to be with “a talented team that could win now,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said ahead of Super Bowl LIV.

It’s still possible that the Patriots sign Brady after March 18 while taking the $13.5 million 2020 dead cap hit, but that scenario would be vastly less appealing for Kraft and Belichick. The team is projected to have roughly $29 million in cap space, per ESPN. The Patriots will also have to make decisions on safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, special teams player Matthew Slater, left guard Joe Thuney, and linebacker Jamie Collins, all of whom are eligible for free agency come mid-March.