Tom Brady is likely heading into his final season. When the 2022 NFL schedule is announced, act accordingly and consider it a farewell tour.
We know, you’ve heard it before. For years, any slip or struggle would result in some proclamation that East it finally was … only for Brady to turn it around when it mattered most, whether it was winning a Super Bowl or displaying a level of play that was reminiscent of some of the best years of his long career. The epitome of that circle occurred in the 2021 season, with Brady playing near MVP level in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only to fall short in a furious playoff comeback against the Los Angeles Rams (who went on to win it all). It was the kind of ending where you assumed Brady would probably come back. He did, but only after much drama and alleged maneuvering that may have involved a dalliance with the Miami Dolphins and the resignation of head coach Bruce Arians.
But two things happened this week that are a bit different than previous Brady developments. And absorbed in the context of Brady repeatedly declaring his goal to play until he’s 45 (which he turns this August), these developments should probably be taken more than seriously.
First, the broadcast deal with Fox Sports, which builds a lucrative bridge to the next stage of Brady’s life. It was billed as a partnership that will begin when Brady retires. That’s nebulous, leaving Brady plenty of wiggle room to assess his options at the end of next season and decide if he’s ready to leave the field permanently. The timing is also revealing, particularly for the network, which is highly unlikely to announce this sort of thing without having a solid idea of what Brady’s plans are. If he’s not already planning for 2022 to be his last, Fox just made a big roll of the dice that he could be waiting two years (or theoretically longer) for Brady to retire, while also hoping he doesn’t change his mind. in that significant period of time.
That is not something normal in any television network. Most especially when there is reportedly a $375 million deal on the line, a figure that is sure to weigh heavily on other corporation-wide talent negotiations going forward. There’s virtually no chance of Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch announcing on an earnings call (of all things) that Brady is in the fold if it’s a distant partnership. And there’s even less chance of Fox putting up that kind of serious money just to put Brady in reserve for an unknown period of time.
The Likely Scenario: Brady’s timeline is exactly what I’d hoped it would be. He plans to retire permanently at age 45, having played 2022 as his last hurrah. And then he’ll transition into a broadcasting career that will actually pay him more over the next 10 years than he made in 23 years playing in the NFL. He is telegraphing the end. We just have to accept what the signs tell us. Sort of like the time he put his property up for sale before his final season in New England. Those in the know said it was a sign of an ending that was already in the works. Everyone else was operating in hopeful ignorance. So take it for what it is. The announced deal with Fox is the metaphorical “for sale” sign on Brady’s front lawn. The next step is coming, whether people want to accept it or not.
Don’t think the Buccaneers are blind, either. If they were, they wouldn’t have forced new season ticket holders to commit to 2022 Y 2023 when closing their seats. Other than the Fox deal, this could be the next most blatant sign that Brady is heading into his final season with the team. It’s the only reason to take advantage of tickets that way.
Which brings us to the other sign that Brady appears to be heading into the home stretch of his career. This one is more subtle, but it tracks a guy looking to squeeze every last drop of football he can into his senior year. When the Buccaneers released photos Wednesday from phase two of the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, there was a surprise in store for everyone. Tom Brady had shown up and was throwing the ball, and he, too, was expected to participate in a second day of practice.
That was a surprising moment, given that Brady was so opposed to voluntary offseason workouts that he pushed NFL veterans to skip them while speaking at an NFL Players Association meeting last May. All this can be taken in two ways. Either Brady changed his mind and sees the need to work with new teammates in what amounts to a kind of offseason positional mixer; or he knows that 2022 is going to be the final touch for him and he is maximizing everything anticipating the end.
Given the other factors at play (reaching his ideal retirement age and the massive deal with Fox), it’s fair to assume Brady’s appearance for light workouts is his last: a casual sign that the end is near.
Of course, we’re talking about Brady. He lives to challenge the limits that others have placed on him as a player. He could not remain retired for more than six weeks. And repeatedly he has managed to replenish both his fire to go forward and his body’s will to accomplish that mission.
Nothing is 100 percent when it comes to his departure from the NFL. But signs and current agreements suggest that he is closer than ever. And that should make fans ponder the Buccaneers’ 2022 schedule for what it likely is: an ending.