Patriots in unfamiliar spot entering offseason of unknowns

For the first time in three years, the Patriots won’t enter the offseason following a Super Bowl appearance.

Now the franchise that has hoisted six Lombardi trophies faces questions it has rarely had to address during its run of success over the past two decades.

Tom Brady’s future in New England is the biggest unknown. The 42-year-old quarterback says it’s unlikely he will retire, but also acknowledged after Saturday’s 20-13 wild-card loss to Tennessee that nothing is certain regarding where he could suit up next season.

“I love the Patriots. I mean, they obviously — this is the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. (Robert) Kraft all these years and for coach (Bill) Belichick, there’s nobody that’s had a better career, I would say, than me,” Brady said. “I don’t know what the future looks like, and I’m not going to predict it.”

Belichick said there was no timeline on making a decision on Brady, but conceded the Super Bowl champions’ situation is unique.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” Belichick said. “Certainly, Tom is an iconic figure in this organization. And nobody respects Tom more than I do.”

Meanwhile, the futures of several players who made up the core of the Patriots’ most recent run of Super Bowls also are up in the air.

The list includes safety Devin McCourty special-teams captain Matt Slater, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and offensive lineman Joe Thuney. Multiple teams also are expected to take another run at luring offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Van Noy said Sunday that where he plays football 2020 has crossed his mind.

“Of course. If I told you I didn’t, I’d be lying,” he said. “But right now, this is sit back and wait, get better in the offseason — which I’ve done each and every year.”

Following an 8-0 start, the Patriots lost four of their final five games to end the season. It’s an uncharacteristic finish for a team that had reached at least the AFC Championship Game in each of the previous eight seasons.

“Certainly, when the season doesn’t end the way that you want it to, it is like a crash landing. It is very emotional,” Slater said. “But the reality is that it is going to end like this for all but one team and, unfortunately, this year we aren’t that team.”

Belichick hasn’t been shy about moving on from players he thought were past their prime or seeking contracts that exceeded their value.

Although it seemed before this season there was no chance Brady would join that list, the offense’s shortcomings could cause Belichick to reassess his thoughts about a quarterback who will be 43 next season.

Bears’ Long calls it quits: Three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Kyle Long announced he is retiring after seven seasons with Chicago.

The oft-injured lineman tweeted he is “stepping away and getting my body right.” He thanked team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, former general manager Phil Emery, ex-Bears coach Marc Trestman, current GM Ryan Pace and the fans. And he wrote: “I was drafted a Bear and I decided to retire a Bear.”

The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, Long made the Pro Bowl at right guard and tackle his first three seasons after Chicago drafted him with the No. 20 overall pick in 2013. But he played in just 30 games the past four years — four this season.

Garrett officially gone: The Cowboys made official what they already had signaled: Jason Garrett is out as head coach.

Garrett was informed he wouldn’t be back for a 10th full season on the same day the Cowboys finished an interview with former Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy.

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones decided not to renew Garrett’s expiring contract because Super Bowl-winning quarterback Troy Aikman’s former backup couldn’t get the Cowboys back to football’s biggest stage, an absence that’s approaching a quarter-century.

Dallas finished 8-8 for the fourth time under Garrett. The Cowboys fueled high preseason expectations with a 3-0 start before dropping eight of 12 and losing control of their playoff fate. Dallas missed the playoffs six times in Garrett’s nine full seasons.

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