All good things must come to an end, and the New England Patriots are going to say goodbye to Tom Brady.  After 20 years throwing for the same team, the six-time Super Bowl champ is ready for new challenges as he becomes an unrestricted free agent.  What those challenges may be, however, are still up in the air, but most likely not for long.

Brady announced his decision to leave on Twitter, explaining, “I don’t know what the future holds but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career.”  He penned a second note to his teammates, as well as the Pats’ coaching staff, asserting, “Our team set a great standard in pro sports and I know it will continue to do just that.  Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments.”

Free agency begins tomorrow, and the 42-year-old is about to become one of the oldest active players in the league.  Still, he believes he has a lot of football left in him and is determined to pick up another Super Bowl ring before hanging up his cleats for good.

There’s been chatter that part of the reason for his departure came from personal differences between the star and head coach Bill Belichick, but those rumors haven’t been totally confirmed.  Belichick released his own statement after Brady made his announcement, praising the quarterback for his athleticism and competitive spirit, as well as what he brought to the Pats organization.  He said, “Tom was not just a player who bought into our program.  He was one of its original creators. Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone setter and a bar raiser. He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in most every season in between. This is a credit to Tom’s consistency and what separates him.”

Brady is not just another football player.  He has accolades and bragging rights most players could only dream of achieving.  In addition to six Super Bowl wins, he has four Super Bowl MVP titles, three league MVP titles, is second on the all-time list for passing yards and rushing touchdowns and, above all, is the winningest quarterback in the history of the NFL.  All of this, despite his age, is going to make him a strong candidate for selection by a number of teams.  Where he ends up is going to depend not only on who is willing to shell out the big bucks, but which team the seasoned veteran feels has the best chances of reaching the Super Bowl.

Some Pats fans had hoped the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, might step in and try to keep his friend at home.  Unlike some team owners who believe they have to call all the shots, though, Kraft lets Belichick maintain control.  Still, Kraft was quick to praise Brady and thank him for giving two decades of his life to the team, saying in a statement, “How do I possibly sum up the depth of my gratitude to Tom Brady for what he’s given us these past 20 years, or the sadness I feel knowing it’s ending?  I love Tom like a son and I always will.  I had hoped this day would never come, but rather that Tom would end his remarkable career in a Patriots uniform after yet another Super Bowl championship.”

It’s possible that Brady could end up with the LA Chargers or with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, although the former would be the more likely option.  As far as the Pats are concerned, they are now on the hunt for someone that might be able to fill Brady’s place – a task that won’t be easy to accomplish by anyone.  Just the same, there are some candidates with serious potential and Belichick knows how to build a winning franchise.