Tom Brady-Patriots divorce will have to be seen to be believed

I’ll believe Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots when I see it.

Because this is the GOAT we are talking about and because he is a free agent for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, the NFL is abuzz — from the combine in Indianapolis to Foxborough and beyond — over this game of quarterback musical chairs that is about to unfold … with some in the league convinced Brady is ready, willing and able to find a new seat.

March madness in New England would be Patriots owner Bob Kraft allowing his football son to leave and not retire as a Patriot without a fight. Yet multiple reports Tuesday suggested there is a growing likelihood Brady has taken his last snap as a Patriots.

Would Bill Belichick truly believe that, say, Ryan Tannehill gives him a better chance to win a seventh Super Bowl championship than Brady, even now, as Time versus Tom begins to tilt toward Time? Or Jameis Winston? Philip Rivers? Teddy Bridgewater? Andy Dalton? Jarrett Stidham and Jordan Love?

Yes, it is getting late early, but there is still time for Kraft to ride in on his blue, red, silver and white horse and keep Tom Brady where he belongs.

This isn’t solely about sentimentality, about the heartfelt goodbye Eli Manning was able to enjoy last month with the Giants — certainly not for the cutthroat Belichick, because it never is for him.

If Mike Vrabel were to welcome his former teammate with open arms in Tennessee … if Jon Gruden were eager to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million deal to quarterback his Las Vegas Raiders … if the Los Angeles Chargers would love the chance to fill their new stadium with Brady replacing Rivers … if the Colts were willing to move on from Jacoby Brissett … if Bruce Arians would welcome Brady throwing to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin … if Joe Judge — no, not him …

Why would Kraft and Belichick want their dynasty to end this way, without No. 12?

Tom Brady
Tom Brady and Robert KraftGetty Images

Brady cannot begin negotiating with other teams until the NFL’s legal tampering period opens March 16. The new NFL league year begins at 4 p.m. March 18.

If it reaches that stage, all bets are off. Does it have to reach that stage?

As much as he has made, as much fame and fortune as he has achieved, Brady has sacrificed millions for the sake of chasing championships with Belichick.

For my money, it is past time for Kraft to make Brady an offer he can’t refuse.

Has Brady already decided to leave his heart in Foxborough? Has Belichick convinced Kraft it is time to move on? Does Brady feel disrespected twisting in the wind?

Or are the Patriots waiting in the weeds to gauge the Brady market before making an 11th-hour move then appeasing him by securing more weapons for him?

Or waiting for the clarity that a collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA would provide to proceed with talks to save the Brady Era?

Everyone knows that Brady endured a season of peak frustration without tight end Rob Gronkowski, with just one game throwing to Antonio Brown, with Julian Edelman his only trustworthy receiver.

It is different for Brady than it was for Derek Jeter following the 2010 season. Jeter was 36 at the time and a free agent for the first time. Yankees GM Brian Cashman wasn’t willing to go higher than a three-year, $51 million deal. Much to Jeter’s chagrin, neither was anyone else.

In Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff’s book “Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees,” Cashman said to Jeter and agent Casey Close: “How much higher do we have to be than highest?” Cashman began rattling off names of possible replacements for Jeter at a meeting between the sides.

“Then Derek got up and goes, ‘You guys finish this! I don’t want to go anywhere else, but I don’t want to be in here either!’ ” Cashman said in the book. And Jeter finished his Fall of Fame career where he belonged.

Though Brady will turn 43 in August, he has more leverage now than Jeter did then. Brady has interested suitors, for football reasons, box-office reasons or both.

If Brady is still keeping an open mind about retiring as a Patriot, there are cautionary tales for him to consider:

John Unitas leaving the Colts after 17 seasons to finish his career in San Diego … a hobbled Joe Namath leaving the Jets to finish his career with the Rams … Joe Montana leaving his heart in San Francisco to finish his career in Kansas City.

Where there is smoke, there is fire, and right now this is a five-alarmer in New England.

It would be a crying shame for Patriots fans — albeit certainly not for the Jets and their fellow AFC East rivals and others who have been waiting two decades for the fall of the Evil Empire — if the Brady-Patriots relationship proves to be irreparable.”

I’ve maintained this before and I maintain it again: Belichick is better off with Brady, and Brady is better off with Belichick.

I’ll believe Tom and Gisele and the Patriots are divorcing when I see it.

Patriots Nation to Belichick and Kraft: Say it ain’t so long.

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