There’s now speculation about Tom Brady possibly returning to New England.

The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, among the NFL insiders with the deepest ties to the Patriots, published a story Wednesday morning about a quarterback carousel potentially starting next offseason. In the piece, Howe floated four possible landing spots for Brady, should the 45-year-old quarterback decide both to continue playing and to leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: the San Francisco 49ers, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Tennessee Titans and the Patriots.

The first three teams make plenty of sense, as Brady’s reported desire to play for his hometown 49ers is well-documented, as are his ties to Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. Interestingly, Howe didn’t mention the Miami Dolphins, whom Brady reportedly considered joining last offseason before the Brian Flores lawsuit upended his plans.

But New England? How would such a reunion make any sense, given all that’s happened between Brady and Bill Belichick? Why would Belichick welcome back a soon-to-be-46-year-old Brady after letting him walk a few years ago, and why would Brady crawl back to a head coach whom he began resenting years before leaving the Patriots?

Howe, engaging in either pure speculation or informed speculation, seems confident in his theory.

“Don’t ever write off the Patriots,” Howe wrote. “Brady and Bill Belichick still have an abundance of respect for one another. They’ve made points to say it publicly on multiple occasions since the QB departed for Tampa. They also spent 23 minutes together in the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium following Brady’s return in 2021 — an appointment they set up prior to the game. The Patriots are slated to have more than $100 million in cap space in 2023, so they can again address their flaws, this time on the heels of a couple impressive draft classes.

“The issues? Not the egos. Not the pride.”

Howe then went into hypothetical assurances that Brady and Belichick would need for such a reunion to take place. Brady would need either to be comfortable with someone like Matt Patricia running New England’s offense, or to know that a competent replacement, such as the constantly rumor-encircled Bill O’Brien, would enter the fold. And Belichick would need to know whether Brady would be content with going year-to-year on his contract or insist on long-term security, as he did in 2020.

Howe suggested a Brady-Patriots reunion could take place without forcing Jones out of New England, but also acknowledged the logic behind exploring a possible trade.

“Realistically, the Patriots wouldn’t even need to trade Mac Jones, whose rookie contract runs through 2024 plus the fifth-year option in 2025,” Howe wrote. “While they certainly could — and as is the case with many starting quarterbacks, they’d start the trade conversations with the hopes of recouping a first-round pick — there’d be loads of value in Jones learning from Brady.

Howe added: “Maybe it’s a long shot. There might be better situations for Brady. But just when you think you’ve got Belichick figured out, he does something no one sees coming.”

Definitely a long shot.

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