No matter how you slice it, Brady's knee is bad news

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
I'm not a doctor, and I'm not about to play one on the Interwebs.

But I can safely say what's going on with Tom Brady's left knee is not good.

The New England Patriots quarterback already has had multiple surgeries: one to repair the damage done from a season-ending hit on opening day, and two more to clean out a rare but persistent infection.

Based on Thursday's updates, more cutting sounds likely, and the reconstruction -- a patellar tendon graft to replace his torn anterior cruciate ligament -- might need to be done again from scratch, the Boston Herald reported.

There are no guarantees here. Fears for Brady's future are warranted.

How soon will he be able to play?

Will he ever be the same again?

What should the Patriots do now?

The worst-case scenario is that Brady doesn't come back at all, but a more plausible plot is that he struggles to feel normal again and ceases to be special. He'll turn 32 before next season starts.

The best-case scenario is Brady will be able to rehabilitate his knee and play next season. Still, he wouldn't be able to participate fully in offseason workouts.

If he's unable to regain his form in 2009, the Patriots might not know until it's too late. Unless they're happy with what's on their roster, they'll need to take a hard look at free agency for an insurance policy (at minimum) or a starter (if the dread becomes reality).

Matt Cassel is in the final year of his contract, and if the Patriots want to bring him back for continuity's sake, they'll still need to foster competition in training camp.

Here's a list of quarterbacks about to enter free agency:

And if none of them do anything for you, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper and Chris Simms always seem available.

The other quarterbacks on New England's roster are rookie Kevin O'Connell and Matt Gutierrez, who went undrafted in 2007. The Patriots cut Gutierrez before the season and re-signed him when Brady got hurt.

O'Connell is lined up to be their quarterback of the future, but the future might be sooner than Patriots fans would like.

ESPN's Mark Schlereth talks about the physical and emotional toll facing Tom Brady.