In advance of the Buccaneers’ wildcard round matchup with the Eagles last week, Tampa Bay QB coach Clyde Christensen said of quarterback Tom Brady, “I’m your typical fan, and I’ll be thinking, ‘is this the last time we’re going to see him?'” (via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times).
It was not, of course, the last time Brady would take the field, as the Bucs handily dispatched Philadelphia to advance to today’s divisional round contest against the Rams. However, Christensen’s comments were a precursor to increased speculation about Brady’s future. As Albert Breer of SI.com tweets, “the drumbeat’s gotten louder on the idea” that Brady could retire after the 2021 season.
As a result of the one-year extension Brady signed last March, he is under club control through 2022, and he affirmed several months after he put pen to paper that he would honor his commitment. Indeed, he has long said that he wants to play until he is 45, and 2022 would be his age-45 season.
However, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears that several of Brady’s teammates believe the current playoff run will mark Brady’s last ride. As one source close to the seven-time Super Bowl winner put it, “Nothing’s been said, but there is a sense among some guys in the locker room that this is it, one way or the other. It’s just little things here or there they are picking up on. Maybe it turns out to be nothing.”
La Canfora is not the only national beat to pass along that type of report. This morning, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington of ESPN.com also wrote that Brady’s status for the 2022 campaign is very much in doubt. That comes on the heels of longtime Patriots teammate Rob Ninkovich‘s appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up!”, in which Ninkovich indicated he would not be surprised if Brady elected to call it a career at season’s end (video link).
Schefter and Darlington say that Brady is non-committal to playing next year, and that he will take a month or more after the season is over to determine how he feels physically and mentally and to speak about the matter with his family. They also posit that, if the Bucs should repeat as Super Bowl champs, it will increase the likelihood that Brady steps away.
None of this should really be all that surprising. Brady is 44, after all, and his ability to maintain an elite level of performance after all these years is unprecedented. It stands to reason that, at this point in his career, he would want to take some time after the season is over to assess the situation. And as one source told Rapoport, Brady hasn’t thought about 2022 and beyond yet simply because he is singularly focused on the Rams game.
On the other hand, as RapSheet observes, the fact that Brady has not yet definitively stated he will return is a little unusual. Ordinarily, he would have already announced his plan to continue his playing career by this point in the calendar.
Even if Brady does come back, the Bucs will likely look a lot different. The organization managed to retain every starter on the Super Bowl LV squad in its pursuit of a repeat, but that will be impossible to do this year (though Schefter and Darlington report that the Bucs are willing to “bend over backwards” to entice Brady to come back). As Stroud writes, head coach Bruce Arians believes his QB will return for his age-45 season, and with Brady under center, Tampa Bay can remain competitive even if they do have to part ways with a number of other key contributors.
This year, Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316, a career-best) and threw 43 TDs against 12 interceptions. Those 43 touchdown passes were the second-highest total in his career, behind only his otherworldly 2007 campaign with New England.