ESPN’s Jeff Darlington turned heads Thursday when he reported Tom Brady is operating under the belief he’ll enter free agency this offseason and sign with a team other than the New England Patriots.

NBC Sports’ Peter King isn’t ready to write Brady’s ticket out of town just yet, though, as the NFL insider revealed Thursday on WEEI’s “Dale & Keefe” that he spoke with someone notable who still believes the quarterback will return to New England.

“ … I don’t pass myself off as a knower of all things Brady,” King said. “It’s funny, I just had breakfast with a quite a big influencer in the NFL and I said, ‘What’s your feeling about Brady?’ He goes, ‘He’s definitely going back to New England.’ This guy knows a few things. So I just don’t know.

“Look, I think Jeff is great. I trust Jeff. I think he’s really good. Again, has Bill Belichick had his summit meeting with Tom Brady? I don’t know. Not that I know of, but who knows? Maybe he has. I wish I could say ‘yup, he’s right’ or ‘no, he’s wrong,’ but I can’t say either. I would be surprised if that decision has been made. But that’s the only thing I could say: It would surprise me.”

Sources told Darlington that Brady currently is evaluating the NFL landscape with the intention of departing. That doesn’t mean the decision is etched in stone, as things could change over the next several weeks. But the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian also reported Thursday the Patriots still have not yet reached out to Brady, so it’s fair to wonder whether the six-time Super Bowl champion really will take his talents elsewhere upon testing the open market.

This would mark Brady’s first foray into free agency since being selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. He officially can begin negotiating with other teams when the NFL’s legal tampering period begins March 16, and he can sign anywhere when the new league year starts March 18.

Brady, who turns 43 this offseason, might be past his prime, especially if his 2019 regression is any indication, but he’s the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and his impending free agency is one of the most fascinating sports storylines in recent memory.

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