Tom Brady can talk all he wants about putting family first and his desire to spend more time with his wife and children. But the truth is, Brady wasn’t always planning to contemplate retirement after this season.
Something changed in Tampa Bay.
Brady signed an extension with the Buccaneers last spring that ties him to the franchise through 2022. The move saved the Bucs $19 million against the cap, allowing them to bring back all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team. At the time, it was widely believed Brady wouldn’t think about hanging up his pads until the deal expires. He will be 45 years old when that happens.
“Brady, 43, had previously said that his goal was to play until age 45, but he said during the week of the Super Bowl that he would now consider playing beyond 45,” ESPN Bucs reporter Jenna Laine wrote at the time. “Brady will be 44 next season, and tacking on a year to his deal keeps him under contract through his 45th birthday. Family will play a major role in determining if, in fact, Brady plays beyond that.”
Brady’s retirement timeline has seemingly accelerated since then. Last week, Seth Wickersham, who just wrote a tell-all book about the rise and fall of the Patriots dynasty, reported Brady would retire after Tampa Bay’s playoff run. On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington reported Brady was “noncommittal” about his football future.
Brady lended more credence to the retirement talk on his newest podcast, saying he’s going to talk about the decision with Gisele, who’s been vocal about wanting her husband to stop getting pulverized on the gridiron. Sunday’s game, in which the Rams brutalized Brady, probably didn’t assuage her longstanding concerns.
“My wife is my biggest supporter,” Brady said. “It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.”
This isn’t the first time Brady has cited the importance of balancing family and football. He missed Patriots OTAs in 2018 and 2019 for supposedly the same reason. Not coincidently, there was also turmoil around the Patriots at the time. Brady’s relationship with Bill Belichick was reportedly fraying.
Brady has spoken at length about the mental toll those seasons took on him. “More and more, I think the joy was being taken away,” he said in an episode of his ESPN+ series, “Man in the Arena” (the final episode, which chronicles Brady’s Super Bowl campaign in Tampa Bay, will be delayed until the spring).
There appeared to be some strife within the Buccaneers at the end of this season. Most notably, Antonio Brown quit mid-game, stripping off his uniform and exiting MetLife Stadium in dramatic fashion. Brown said Bruce Arians was trying to force him to play through injury, which resulted in an ugly back-and-forth between the two parties that even Brady couldn't escape. Brown ripped Brady in a podcast over his incentive-laden contract and Brady’s role as the de-facto GM.
A couple of weeks later, Arians hit safety Andrew Adams in the head following Tampa Bay’s Wild Card win over the Eagles. Arians was fined $50,000 for the infraction.
As a final act, Arians failed to tell every player on his defense they were blitzing Matthew Stafford on the Rams’ final pass play Sunday. The horrible miscue allowed Stafford to easily find Cooper Kupp for a 44-yard completion that set up the game-winning field goal.
The depleted Buccaneers were down 27-3 in the third quarter before Brady led them back — with the help of multiple Los Angeles turnovers.
Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, who played on the franchise tag this season, spoke Sunday about the seemingly tenuous state of the team. “We had a lot of turmoil going on in our organization,” David told reporters. “Guys getting injured, guys who were a huge part of our success. It was definitely a tough season.”
The Buccaneers will be hard-pressed to field a Super Bowl contender next season. Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, center Ryan Jensen, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul are all free agents.
With that in mind, Brady might decide it’s better to finish on top — he led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns this season — than play his last season on a dysfunctional team without Super Bowl aspirations.
After all, Belichick taught Brady it’s always better to get out a year early opposed to a year late.