He’s retired, for now. He’s under contract with the Buccaneers, for now. The question is whether Tom Brady will stay retired — and whether the Buccaneers will make irreversible plans for life without him before he potentially unretires.
Six days after the First Annual Brady Retirement Watch ended, Brady himself commenced the First Annual Brady Unretirement Watch, via comments on his podcast. There’s a definite and palpable sense that he will play again; some in league circles already believe he could be back by July. Of this year.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers need a quarterback plan. They have Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask. Per NFL Media, they could explore trades for players like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. If they do such a deal, the door necessarily closes on Brady returning to Tampa. (At a minimum, an unretirement could become very awkward.)
That may be what Brady wants. Instead of making an overt play to get out of Tampa, he may hope that the natural unfolding of events will make it impractical for the Bucs to keep him, so that he could play for one more year with a team that is perhaps better suited to allow him to win an eighth Super Bowl and walk away.
As previously explained, the roster move the Bucs make after June 1 will be telling. If they put him on the reserve-retired list, they continue to own his rights. If they release him, he’s free to sign with any team at any time.
“You never say never,” Brady said on his own podcast six days ago. “At the same time I know that I’m very, I feel very good about my decision. I don’t know how I’ll feel six months from now.”
That last part is what got my attention. Fourteen years ago, then-retired (for the first time) Brett Favre appeared on David Letterman’s show and said, “I think when training camp gets close, I will — something’s bound to happen.” That’s stronger than what Brady said, but the expression of vague uncertainty regarding a not-too-distant future is worth paying close attention to.
Before the possibility of Brady retiring emerged in the days preceding Tampa Bay’s playoff loss to the Rams, Brady’s position was clear. He’d play through 2022. And then, he was gone.
He’s also said he doesn’t want to turn on a game and think that he could do better than the players he’s watching. If he doesn’t return, he’d better not watch any other games in 2022.
So if this all is part of a semi-elaborate ruse on Brady’s part to engineer a graceful exit from Tampa, what is his preferred next destination? Two years ago, he wanted to play for the 49ers, and they passed. Would they give Trey Lance another year to develop with Brady as the starter? That would give Brady a chance to play for the team for which he grew up cheering, with a roster that otherwise remains ready to win a Super Bowl — and a head coach who would surely take full advantage of the upgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo.
If I were a betting man (and fortunately for my bank accounts I’m not), I’d put a few bucks on the currently slim possibility that, when the 2022 season rolls around, Brady gets what he possibly currently wants from the Bucs (a way out) and what he definitely wanted two years ago from the Niners (a way in).