Brady’s unexplained absence from the Bucs indicates that something isn't right

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There’s one detail that’s routinely overlooked when new reports surface about Tom Brady’s dalliance with the Dolphins.

He still plays quarterback for the Buccaneers.

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How awkward.

After 40 days of “fauxtirement,” Brady announced in March he was returning to the Bucs for the final year of his contract. There’s little doubt Brady was committed this offseason: he recruited several veteran free agents to Tampa Bay, including Leonard Fournette, Logan Ryan and Russell Gage.

But it’s apparent Brady’s temporary retirement was some sort of power play. It’s quite a coincidence that Bruce Arians stepped down as head coach just days after Brady’s comeback.

We read an abundance of reports about Brady’s souring relationship with Arians, including from former Patriots offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger.

Now Brady is in the midst of an extended and unexplained absence from training camp. Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said Thursday they expect Brady to return after Tampa Bay’s second preseason game Aug. 20. When asked whether Brady will be the Bucs’ Week 1 QB, Bowles said his confidence is “pretty high.”

Noticeably, that’s not a guarantee.

It doesn’t sound like there’s a family emergency that’s pulling Brady away from camp. Venerable NFL Insider Ian Rapoport said Thursday on “The Pat McAfee Show” the absence was planned and “everyone close to him is OK.”

Brady’s hiatus is more about finding a work-life balance, Rapoport said.

That’s what Brady said his retirement was about, too, only to return roughly five weeks later.

During that time away, Brady reportedly engaged in discussion with the Dolphins about joining their front office as a minority owner — continuing their three-year conversation. NFL investigators found that Brady started talking with the Dolphins as far back as August 2019.

But then Brian Flores sued the Dolphins, and that apparently blew up the plan. Now Brady is back in Tampa Bay, where the roster once again appears to be in shambles.

It’s apparent Brady was frustrated with the Buccaneers’ chaotic and injury-riddled end to last season. They were dealing with a myriad of absences, including Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, who quit in the middle of a late-December game against the Jets.

Brady led the Buccaneers back against the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round, only to watch Matthew Stafford connect with Cooper Kupp in the final seconds of regulation, leading to a game-winning field goal.

When asked about whether that loss factored into his decision to play again, Brady demurred. “I’m not — I don’t know,” he told reporters. “Seems like forever ago. But thank you.”

At 45 years old, Brady no longer needs to win the offseason parking spot or work overtime in the mid-August heat. There’s little doubt he’ll be prepared to play Week 1.

But football is a team sport, and surely, missing at least 11 days of practice isn’t ideal. Brady also took off for three days last weekend to celebrate his birthday.

Maybe Brady is looking around him and getting disillusioned. Center Ryan Jensen, one of the most important players on offense, suffered a serious knee injury last week. Godwin is still recovering from a torn ACL, Gage hurt his hamstring and Rob Gronkowski is retired. Right now, an aging Julio Jones is Tampa Bay’s No. 2 wideout, and a declining Kyle Rudolph is the starting tight end.

Making matters weirder, the Bucs held joint practices this week with the Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa chalked up all the Brady rumors to “noise.”

But the idea that something is adrift keeps getting harder to ignore.