One of the leading storylines that will dominate the NFL offseason will be where Tom Brady will ply his trade next season – if at all?
The 45-year-old just wrapped up one of his most turbulent seasons on and off the field, which ended with his Tampa Bay Buccaneers being beaten by the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
Brady, who is a free agent so can sign anywhere, remained coy about what was next for him after the loss.
“I’m going home and I’ll get the best possible sleep tonight,” Brady told reporters. “It was just a big focus on this game, so it’s really just going to be one day at a time.”
He was philosophical when it came to addressing his emotions after the playoff loss.
“It just feels like the end of the season,” he said. “I love this organization. It’s a great place. Thank you all for welcoming me. I am very grateful for the respect and I hope to give the same back.”
So let’s take a look back at Brady’s difficult season and where he could play next season, if he will play at all.
Brady is synonymous with winnings. The legendary quarterback has won seven Super Bowl rings and is the player with the most career wins.
But this season, Brady and his Bucs found winning a little harder. The team finished with an 8-9 record, with many of their stars not playing at the level that helped them win the title two seasons ago.
Brady himself didn’t look like his unflinching self either, with unusual errors and uncharacteristic mistimes creeping into Tampa Bay’s offense.
Whether it was father Time catching up to him or his life off the field influencing his game — Brady divorced his 13-year-old wife Gisele Bundchen mid-year — he didn’t look as unflappable as the same.
When he was preparing for his weekly appearance on “Let’s Go!” Podcast If he’s had trouble separating his NFL game from his personal life, Brady said, “That’s what being a pro is.”
“I’ve dealt with a lot of challenging situations on and off the pitch over 23 years, and a lot of it happens in front of a lot of people,” he explained. “I think the interesting thing about a football player and an athlete in general is that you’re out there. I always say we’re not actors, even though we’re on TV. That out there is our true selves.
“We try to do our best. That’s really how people got to know me over the years through television and that’s my authentic self that’s out there to compete with my teammates every day and you give the team everything you can.
“Everyone goes through different things. We all have our unique challenges in life. We are all human. We are doing the best we can do.”
And after 18 weeks of ups and downs, Brady put on one of the worst playoff performances of his career against the Cowboys, looking uncertain and upset: not adjectives normally used to describe him.
You would be right if you think you remember Brady retiring from the NFL.
In February 2022, the former New England Patriot announced his retirement before changing his mind a few weeks later and announcing he was returning for a 23rd season.
As Brady has aged, he has become more philosophical about life and his relationship to sport.
“I don’t think life is the ultimate joy. I don’t think life is always the ultimate pain. I don’t think life is the ultimate struggle,” he said in September.
“Your life ebbs and flows; through the clouds and through the sun and through the rain and through the beautiful days. And you appreciate the moments and find joy in the little things.”
And with his 24th season on the horizon and as a free agent, retiring from the NFL could be a very real prospect.
If he were to retire, his next steps in the sport appear to be already planned after he signed a 10-year, $375 million contract last year to become Fox Sports’ lead NFL analyst will.
It’s a path trodden by many former players – including the Manning brothers and Tony Romo – that could help Brady find the next chapter in his life in the sport where he’s spent more than half his life.
While it wasn’t a classic Brady season, he still showed he can play at the highest level.
And write Tom Brady off at your own risk.
The legendary quarterback can now sign with any team after the end of the 2022 season after his contract with the Bucs expired.
If Brady is to return to the field, he will likely select a team with an environment designed to win immediately with – presumably – not many years left in his career. How many times have we said that?
There have been a few teams linked to Brady’s signing, including a return to Bill Belichick and the Patriots or the Miami Dolphins, but two teams in particular stand out because of pre-existing ties.
First, the Tennessee Titans — whose own quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a free agent this offseason — are coming off their own disappointing year but have a team full of veterans and a head coach, Mike Vrabel, who played with Brady in New England for seven years.
However, the main contender is the Las Vegas Raiders. They signaled they were walking away from their starting quarterback Derek Carr this offseason as they benched him for the final two weeks of the year, with Carr posting a warm farewell after Week 18.
With the Patriots’ former longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as head coach — the two shared an almost symbiotic bond during their trophy-filled run in New England — the integration into the team’s offense would be seamless.
The Raiders have plenty of offensive firepower – Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow are all waiting to catch passes – and the defense has playmakers too. Not to mention the excitement of gambling in Las Vegas.
And how great would it be to see Brady in the famous Silver and Black of the Raiders? It’s just a sight that could happen in the future of the GOAT.