Years of sitting in press conferences and knowingly being lied to will cause anyone's cynicism to grow. General managers, coaches, and players will misdirect, deflect, and fabricate to throw the media off their scent. Sports organizations will build a castle of untruths to avoid having to be honest.
So when Bruce Arians' retirement was bundled as a tidy, happy, neat little package, my BS meter started pinning in the red. A chaotic and muddled offseason for the Tampa Bay Bucs ends with the living legend unretiring, while the coach steps down, and it's all confetti and lollipops? Nah.
There's been too much turbulence to believe something wasn't wrong in the cockpit. Last season, reports surfaced that Tom Brady was unhappy with the lack of discipline around the team. By the time he "retired" after the season, whispers became louder. In early February, SI's Albert Breer reported, "I have heard there were things about the Bucs' program that frustrated him (which might be natural, considering how tight a ship he was coming from when he got to Tampa)."
Former NFL lineman Rich Ohrnberger tweeted, "Apparently, while Arians was rehabbing the Achilles (tendon) in the early mornings, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Brady would work on the week's game plan. Arians would later come in and take the red pen to work they’d done. The QB and OC felt undermined, there was tension."
Brady had clearly started leaving bread crumbs on his plan to walk away. In January, former teammate Rob Ninkovich was the first to suggest Brady may retire after the 2021 season. After the Bucs were eliminated, Adam Schefter reported prematurely that Brady would retire. These parties clearly were privy to some type of inside information, coming off a season where Brady led the league in passing yards and touchdowns. For years, Brady had publicly stated a desire to play until he was 45. In March 2021, Brady extended his contract with the Bucs, tying him to the team through the 2022 season. Suddenly, the man who's been laser-focused in his goals forever, coming off another career season, was going to press the eject button one year early?
Brady expressed frustrations with the dramatic conclusion of the Antonio Brown drama, when the wide receiver was thrown off the team mid-game. Brady had singlehandedly revived Brown's career in both New England and Tampa. Arians had publicly stated he didn't want to add Brown, then clumsily had to explain why he reversed the decision when they added him. He just couldn't admit they bent to his quarterback's whim.
Could Brady have been pleased that his efforts to rehabilitate Brown ended in Arians tossing him in the middle of a game? A shockingly tight contest against the New York Jets, where Brady needed to pull an iron out of the fire with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with just 15 seconds left? The Bucs were now down Chris Godwin and Brown for the rest of the season because Brady's coach lost his temper in-game.
While Brady was "retired" the Bucs didn't entirely believe it. General manager Jason Licht said he would "leave the light on" for the quarterback. Arians said the Bucs had no interest in trading away his rights -- even if he was retired. Reports surfaced that he may have tried to push his way to Miami. For all of the unknown, one thing was certain: Brady wasn't totally committed to ending his career. Just days after his announcement, he appeared on his own radio show/podcast with Jim Gray and said "never say never" about a return. A man defined by his superhuman commitment to goals was suddenly wishy-washy.
In mid- March, Brady decided to fly to England to take in a Manchester United match. That club is owned by the Glazer family, who also owns the Bucs. One day later -- certainly curious timing -- Brady announced his return. Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud tweeted that Brady learned of Arians' impending retirement at this time. So, Brady flew across the Atlantic, may have met with his owner's inner circle, learned of Arians' plan, then announced a comeback, yet they weren't interconnected?
As for the smiley face emoji Arians has put on the situation, it seems illogical. He insisted that the explanation for this peculiar timing -- two months into the NFL's offseason, instead of when they were eliminated -- was to ensure Todd Bowles was given a winning team. Arians said it was only after Brady decided to come back that he felt comfortable giving the team to Bowles.
But we learned this week he surprised Bowles with this news when he called him Monday night. According to ESPN's Jenna Lane, Bowles was preparing to attend an NBA game when he shockingly learned he was Tampa's new head coach. So Brady learned Arians was stepping away two weeks before Bruce's hand-picked successor did? Arians also left as soon as free agency ended, meaning Bowles never had head coaching say in how money was spent. But, supposedly, this was all in honor of Arian's devotion to Bowles?
Arians also said he didn't want to take the chance of a down year undermining Bowles' chance of having the job, long-term. But without ever coaching a game for the Bucs, the general manager and ownership handed him a five-year contract. Why are they so willing to give Bowles security now, but shaky in their belief after this season?
Too many things don't align to think Brady and Arians were totally compatible, and that some type of rift didn't develop between the two. It's also been a completely haphazard offseason for a traditionally single-minded individual. Brady confounded many by going overboard in thanking the Bucs and their fans, yet ignoring the Patriots and New England fans, when he announced his "retirement." But if he wasn't actually walking away from football in his own mind -- simply ending his time in Tampa Bay -- it makes far more sense.
If that isn't enough evidence that the Bucs' narrative is a little too tidy, there's one more inexplicable thread. Reports have now leaked for months about the things Brady has been unhappy about. But potentially in his final season, one last dash for a Super Bowl, we've heard no rumors that he's feeling misled or aggravated his head coach has suddenly stepped down, two months into the offseason, and left the keys to someone finished in last place in the AFC East three of his four years as a head coach. Brady's silence is deafening. So if he was angry, we'd know. But he's not. That's all you need to know.