This cryptic photo of Tom Brady walking into Gillette Stadium from the Hulu commercial that aired during the Super Bowl sparked even more speculation about whether the quarterback will re-sign with the Patriots. Hulu photo via Tribune News Service

Even as a terrific Super Bowl matchup played out on the field Sunday evening, with the Kansas City Chiefs pulling off a comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL offseason managed to loom over the game.

On the screen was Tom Brady, standing in a stadium tunnel in the dark, his future uncertain.

It was a Super Bowl commercial for Hulu, of course, which explains the cryptic photo he tweeted earlier in the week as a preview for the ad, but the fact remains that as the 2020 NFL offseason kicks off, Brady’s future is the biggest topic of conversation.

That’s where we’ll start our look at five big offseason story lines, with free agency and the 2020 NFL draft just around the corner:

1. Will Brady return to the Patriots?

As rumors flew around Miami over the weekend, the chances of Brady returning to New England seemed to improve.

In recent weeks, owner Robert Kraft has said that he wants Brady to remain with the Patriots or retire. On Sunday, reports surfaced that the Patriots would be willing to play Brady $30 million next season. While that’s $4 million per year less than what the Pittsburgh Steelers pay Ben Roethlisberger, it’s a good sign that there could be enough money coming from New England to convince Brady to stay.

It’s clear by the way that Brady is handling things that he’s testing the Patriots. Since 2013, Brady has been taking about 70 cents on the dollar to stay in New England and give Bill Belichick extra money to build the roster around him. But after winning his sixth Super Bowl last year, Brady didn’t have enough talent around him this season to get past the first round of the playoffs.

The receiving corps lacked depth. The offensive line had holes. The tight end situation was one of the worst in football following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Brady, who is a free agent in March, has made it clear he’s willing to listen to offers from other teams.

Where will those come from? Two teams at the forefront of the discussions are the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders will guarantee $2.9 million of Derek Carr’s $16.9 million salary. But that small amount wouldn’t prevent them from going after Brady.

New England improved its chances of a Brady return over the weekend. But it’s still not a lock that he’ll be back with the Patriots.

2. What’s next for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys?

It’s looking more and more likely that Dallas will use the franchise tag on Prescott, keeping him under contract for another year while the two sides negotiate a long-term contract. The franchise tag number is going to be roughly $27 million, which could cause Prescott to hold out, as it’s considerably less than what he could make annually under a long-term deal.

But the Cowboys have other areas to address. They need to re-sign wide receiver Amari Cooper, which could cost $18 million to $20 million per year. Defensive end Robert Quinn could cost $10 million to $12 million a year, and the team will have tough decisions with whether to keep him and cornerback Byron Jones. Jones probably would cost about $14 million a year, but his lack of interceptions could cause Dallas to let him walk.

With the salary cap, Jerry Jones can’t keep everyone. He’ll have some tough juggling to do to make all of this work.

3. The Saints have some big decisions to make.

New Orleans had one of the best draft hauls of the decade in 2017, when it landed cornerback Marshon Lattimore, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and running back Alvin Kamara. Those are four Pro Bowl-caliber players.

The problem for the Saints is that those players are now all entering their fourth seasons and are in position to get paid. That’ll make it difficult to keep this impressive core together, but the team could look to make another run at a Super Bowl with this group and quarterback Drew Brees.

The Saints are hopeful Brees will return, but they won’t know for certain until after he takes a month to ponder his future. Reserve quarterback and offensive Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill would be less expensive to keep as Brees’ backup than second-stringer Teddy Bridgewater, but if Brees retires, New Orleans might scramble to keep Bridgewater as the starter over Hill.

4. The Seahawks could be in the market for superstars.

Quarterback Russell Wilson, one of the NFL’s best players in his own right, has said that he would like for the Seahawks to add superstars to the team’s roster. While the Seahawks aren’t big on spending high prices in free agency, management is likely going to listen to Wilson’s request.

For starters, they could re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, who is one of the league’s top edge rushers and played well after his trade from Houston despite dealing with a core injury. Wilson has said he wants Clowney back, and losing him would put Seattle in the market for two or three defensive ends, given its weakness at the position.

Wilson knows this team is close to being a division winner. It came within one yard of beating the 49ers and claiming the NFC West title this past year. This situation is similar to 2013, Wilson’s second season, when the Seahawks were coming off a wild-card appearance and needed to improve their pass rush. They added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett that offseason and ending up winning the Super Bowl. Pass rush is the biggest need for this team this offseason.

5. After a year of big trades, one name to watch is Darius Slay.

Last year had plenty of blockbuster trades, including deals for Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants to Browns), Frank Clark (Seahawks to Chiefs), Laremy Tunsil (Dolphins to Texans), Clowney (Texans to Seahawks) and Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars to Rams).

While it’s too soon to know what star players might be on the move next, the Detroit Lions could decide to trade Slay, the team’s highly regard cornerback, if they get the right offer. With the third pick in the draft, they are in a great spot to get the top cornerback in this year’s class. Or, if they can entice a team to trade up, they can still move down and draft a top, young cornerback a few spots later.

Slay is a Pro Bowl player and one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he is entering the last year of his contract and could end up being the NFL’s highest-paid corner in his next deal. He was unhappy last year when Detroit traded defensive back Quandre Diggs to the Seahawks, and the Lions were listening to offers for Slay from Denver and Philadelphia before last year’s trade deadline. He’s a name to watch as the offseason kicks off.


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