Be honest with yourselves, Patriots fans: Tom Brady returning as New England’s quarterback in 2024 is better in theory than in practice.

Why are we having this conversation? Brady almost certainly isn’t coming back to Foxboro this year, except to take his rightful spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Well, sure. But the seven-time Super Bowl champion, for whatever reason, didn’t completely slam the door when asked during a recent podcast appearance about potentially unretiring, even mentioning the Patriots by name. Alas, we’re left to speculate.

And that’s exactly what NESN’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle did on the latest episode of “The Spread” podcast, kicking around hypothetical odds on Brady returning to New England and debating how he’d fit with the new-look Patriots.

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Doyle (a Patriots fan growing up, mind you) was vehemently opposed to the idea, whether it entailed Brady jumping back behind center or even just standing alongside Jerod Mayo on New England’s coaching staff.

“They’re not going to win that division, Brady or no Brady. (They’re) 22-to-1 to win the division (at FanDuel Sportsbook),” Doyle said. “Just think of his last year in New England and his last year in Tampa, where the supporting casts just weren’t there.”

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The Patriots went 12-4 in 2019 — Brady’s final season with New England — but lost in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs to the Tennessee Titans. Cracks were beginning to show in New England’s roster. And they only widened in the four years since, culminating with a 4-13 season in 2023 and the decision this offseason to move on from Bill Belichick after more than two decades.

Additionally, the Buccaneers went 8-9 in 2022 — Brady’s third and final season in Tampa Bay — largely because their Super Bowl-winning core started to deteriorate. It’s fair to say Brady would need a good team around him to succeed at age 47, unlike earlier in his career when he could carry a franchise to glory. The Patriots simply are not a good team right now.

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“This team is so devoid of proven talent — across the board, on both sides — that I think it would remain pretty ugly,” Doyle said. “I don’t think he’s going to change a whole lot. He also hasn’t played in two years.”

Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. A legend. The six championship banners he brought to Gillette Stadium are enough to warrant carte blanche in almost every crevice of New England.

But for the sake of the Patriots’ long-term future, Brady must stay away. And team owner Robert Kraft must resist the temptation to call up his old friend Tommy in wake of Belichick’s departure.

It’s time for a new era, spearheaded by Mayo and quarterback Drake Maye, who New England just selected with the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Bringing back Brady — even for a year, with Maye waiting in the wings — only stalls the forward momentum.

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“That would be a bad move, too, just in general, if you’re the Patriots,” Doyle said. “I don’t care if (Brady) shows up to One Patriot Place tomorrow and is like, ‘Hey, Bobby. I wanna get back in there.’ Enough time has passed. Imagine the situation that would place Drake Maye in.”

” … Sitting behind Jacoby Brissett is much different than sitting behind Tom Brady,” Doyle continued. ” … I think the competitive nature in Brady — like, he’s not going to groom (Maye). He’s going to try to put him out of a job.”

And as far as Brady coaching?

“I think he’d be a terrible coach,” Cole argued.

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Doyle concurred, adding, “Now, Drake Maye is filling Mac Jones’ shoes; not Tom Brady’s shoes.”

That’s how it should remain.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images