While it's impossible to replace the greatest quarterback football's ever seen, life in New England will go on. And you can bet Bill Belichick and Co. have no plans to roll over.
As the Patriots set out to find a new leader under center for the first time in two decades, here's a look at their options:
Of all the potential candidates to replace Brady, Dalton seems like the most realistic. And perhaps the most sensible.
Long having been the barometer for painfully average quarterback play in the NFL, Dalton wouldn't have any Patriots fans doing backflips about their new direction at quarterback - it'd certainly be something of a reality check after the GOAT departs after 20 years. But the Patriots, amid all their success, have never really been about flashiness, anyway.
With an elite defense in place, a steadying presence like Dalton, who can limit negative plays while demonstrating the poise and veteran savvy to run Josh McDaniels' offensive system, does more than enough to keep the Patriots competitive.
The Bengals would almost certainly give Dalton up for a mid-to-late draft pick, and his contract ($17.5 million in 2020) is considered cheap by QB standards. This scenario would give Belichick the opportunity to load up elsewhere on the roster and put Dalton in the best situation he's ever been in.
Sounds crazy, right? Maybe not.
Winston's turnover issues are well documented. He's the ultimate roller-coaster ride at quarterback, and a truly wild 2019 season saw him become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season. Belichick, of all coaches, would never put up with that - any Patriots QB on a path to 30 interceptions would be benched (or cut) long before he had a chance to get there.
But you're fooling yourself if you don't still see the upside in Winston's game - even if you have to squint. For all his faults, he's still shown plenty of flashes of the talent that once made him the No. 1 overall pick. And if there was ever a coaching staff that believed it could rein in the carelessness and tap into the potential, it's the one in New England.
With Belichick seeking to win at least one more title before he walks away, don't rule out this kind of gamble. The contract wouldn't be prohibitive, no draft picks are needed to get Winston, and the payoff could be massive.
Speaking of upside ...
Shortly after news of Brady's exit from New England, the Panthers announced that Newton's been given permission to seek a trade. Many in the football world are down on the former MVP after some injury-riddled seasons, but the talent is unquestionably still there.
If there was ever a "Go for it!" move for Belichick to make, this is the one.
Despite having the same quarterback for 20 years, the Patriots are known for their adaptability on the offensive side of the ball. Always able to move with the times, and based on the talent on the roster, the coaching staff is constantly making systematic adjustments to put its players in the best possible position for success. So don't be so quick to assume Cam doesn't fit.
Newton is a true game-changer at the most important position on the field. Even if the Patriots weren't able to make meaningful upgrades at receiver, an offense that features his ability as a runner in addition to his arm would be able to succeed in a way that even Brady was unable to last year.
The medicals will be a factor here, as will the compensation the Panthers seek in return for their longtime superstar, but this would be the kind of move that suggests the Patriots aren't sitting around feeling sorry for themselves.
Back to the safe options we go.
Familiarity and affordability are the arguments for reuniting with Brissett, and it's not difficult to envision Belichick entertaining this route in the post-Brady transition. Brissett understands The Patriot Way, having spent his rookie year in New England before his trade to Indianapolis.
This would be another high-floor, low-ceiling play, with the Patriots valuing the ability to build the roster as much as possible around the quarterback while knowing exactly what to expect from the guy running the show on offense.
As the Colts seemingly close in on Philip Rivers, you have to think they part with Brissett for next to nothing. And with so much cap space at their disposal, perhaps they even retain some salary to get a pick out of the deal. That certainly sounds like a Belichick-type value play.
One of the more unrealistic options, but an option nonetheless, is the Patriots moving forward with either sophomore quarterback Stidham or a rookie selected in the upcoming draft.
This could be the route a team more open to a full-scale rebuild takes, demonstrating patience in pursuit of a true long-term replacement for Brady, but you have to wonder if Belichick has time for that.
He turns 68 in April, and it's fair to wonder how many years the coaching GOAT plans to stick around. He'll chase a title or two without Brady, to be sure, but Stidham or a rookie quarterback won't help him do that in the short term.
However, it'd be the ultimate vote of confidence in his coaching staff, and his ability to construct a roster around the quarterback, so we can't totally rule it out. But this certainly seems like the most unlikely option of all.