TAMPA, Fla. — His competitive fire wasn’t quenched by the champagne gulps from all the toasts to his career, which ended awkwardly just six weeks earlier. Instead, 44-year-old retiree Tom Brady sounded like he was getting ready for a game when he called Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.
“It felt like the morning after we just lost to the Rams,” Christensen said of Brady’s call last Sunday, six weeks after the Bucs lost to the eventual Super Bowl 56 champion.
“He had a list. He said, ‘This is how we can get better.’ I think he was about 12 hours out of retirement by then. The first thing he said was that he didn’t want to go that route. He wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to win everything next year.”
Christensen said he wasn’t sure if there was a tipping point that prompted Brady to return to the Bucs for the 2022 season.
“I honestly don’t know,” Christensen said. “I don’t think he could imagine not playing football. He’s a soccer player. The problem is that he is a soccer player at the top of his game. That is the bottom line.”
The stat line for Brady’s final season made retirement seem so unlikely in the first place. He was signed until 2022.
Brady led the NFL with 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdowns last season. No quarterback had accomplished as much as Brady with his seven Super Bowl wins, three NFL Most Valuable Player Awards, five Super Bowl MVPs and 15 Pro Bowls.
He led the Bucs to 29 wins and a Super Bowl 55 win in two seasons at Tampa Bay. Brady had apparently decided to leave the NFL while he was still at the peak of his game.
The retirement announcement was mishandled and Brady’s father, Tom Sr., said his son felt pressured by media reports to announce a decision.
The Bucs played it perfectly, taking turns celebrating Brady’s remarkable career and keeping lines of communication open with him. They also had to make plans to replace him, either through a free hand or a possible trade with the Texans for Deshaun Watson.
Brady’s close relationship with the Glazer family, who own the Bucs, and general manager Jason Licht, as well as respect for head coach Bruce Arians and his staff, played important roles on the way back.
The timing, however, was no coincidence. He announced that he would be back on the eve of the free agents’ negotiation phase. Brady knew his decision would have a positive impact on player retention.
Hours after Brady decided to return, center Ryan Jensen signed a three-year, $39 million deal. The Bucs retained cornerback Carlton Davis and guard Aaron Stinnie, and receiver Chris Godwin signed a three-year, $60 million contract. They also landed Falcons free-agent receiver Russell Gage and Giants safety Logan Ryan. Everyone wanted a chance to play with the future Hall of Famer quarterback.
“I think that with his quick return, he was probably trying to beat the free hand so you can build a team around him,” Christensen said. “So you had a chance.”
Since he announced his retirement on February 1, there has been much speculation and some conspiracy theories as to Brady’s true intentions.
It contains a plausible scenario in which Brady would join the Miami Dolphins as a minority owner while also working with Sean Payton, who would become the head coach. National reports said those plans fell through because the dolphins were refused permission to interview Payton. And on the same day that Brady announced his retirement, former Miami head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL, alleging racial discrimination.
Regardless of his reasoning, Brady’s retirement always felt a little off. It struck Christensen as odd that the most detailed quarterback in league history hadn’t taken the time to retire from the game before making such a monumental decision to end his career after 22 seasons.
“That was so surprising about his quick announcement,” Christensen said. “It’s not what they usually do. They know they are tired, they are physically exhausted. They usually wait a month or two. Wait and then decide.
“It was kind of weird. A bit out of character for him.”
On Jan. 23, the Bucs lost 30-27 to the Rams after Brady brought the team back from a 27-3 deficit.
On Jan. 28, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that Brady’s retirement was imminent.
About 21 hours later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington followed up that report with an even clearer one of their own. Networks immediately began playing highlights of Brady’s career and interviewing former teammates and coaches.
On January 31, Brady went to his Let’s Go! Podcast and told host Jim Gray that he hasn’t made a decision about his future.
“I’ll know when the time is right,” he said to Grey. “I know there is a lot of interest in when I stop playing and I understand that. It’s not that I don’t recognize that. I only know when I’ll know, and if I don’t know, I don’t know. I will not come to a conclusion on that.”
But the conclusion came 14 hours later.
In a thoughtful letter he posted to social media, Brady cited his desire to spend more time with his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen and their three children as the main reason for ending his career.
“It’s hard for me to write this, but here it is: I won’t be making this competitive commitment again. I’ve loved my NFL career and now it’s time to focus my time and energy on other things that need my attention.”
Just a week earlier, Payton had resigned from his position as head coach with the Saints.
Speaking to reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on March 2, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier admitted they called the Saints about Payton but were denied the opportunity to speak to him. He did not address Brady as a possible owner, only saying there was no interest in him as a player.
There are more than a few points Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio has tried to connect in relation to Brady and a role with the Dolphins.
The connection, Florio says, stems from Brady’s friendship with Bruce Beal, described as a “significant limited partner of the Dolphins willing to buy the team” by owner Stephen Ross, the University of Michigan’s most prolific donor.
Ross is under investigation by the league after Flores claimed Ross encouraged him to lose games in 2019 by offering him $100,000 per loss.
“They planned to go after both[Brady and Payton]and the Flores lawsuit caused them to pull the plug,” Florio told NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. Florio said several Dolphins sources have confirmed their interest in Payton and “on Brady, all Dolphins sources acknowledge that there have been discussions about him becoming a minority owner.”
Brady and Payton are friends and are represented by Agent Donald Yee, who did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Brady and Bundchen reportedly bought a 5,772-square-foot lot in Biscayne Bay — an area nicknamed the “Billionaire Bunker” thanks to wealthy residents like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — overlooking the Miami skyline for $17 million . You build an eco-friendly mansion instead of the original house.
There’s no question that playing with the Bucs for two years was good for Brady and his brand. Alongside the seventh Super Bowl, he gained the control he lacked in New England playing for Bill Belichick. In short, there’s virtually nothing Brady asked for that the Bucs turned down.
They traded for tight end Rob Gronkowski, claimed running back Leonard Fournette and signed troubled receiver Antonio Brown — twice. They welcomed Alex Guerrero, Brady’s personal trainer and co-founder of TB12, to the AdventHealth Training Center to work with all of their players.
Licht, who was with New England when Brady was drafted No. 199 from Michigan in 2000, often speaks about his special bond with the greatest quarterback of all time.
But since Brady’s retirement, there had been a steady stream of stories suggesting Brady’s relationship with Arians had deteriorated.
Arians has vehemently denied this.
“It seems like there’s a (story) every day now,” Arians told dem Tampa Bay Times Last month. “Everyone is speculating that he is going somewhere else. I do not mind. Those other cops—that relationship thing, that’s so far-fetched.”
However, while Licht said they would “keep the lights on” for Brady, Arians vowed not to trade his rights. “Nope. Bad deal,” he said.
Last Saturday, by chance or calculation, Brady attended a Manchester United game against Tottenham Hotspur. He sat with the Glazer family, who own both the Bucs and Man U. Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the Tom Brady of football, had three goals and later asked Brady if he was done playing. Brady made a face and looked uncertain.
Whether Brady was there to update the Glazers of his decision to return remains unclear, but by 7:15 a.m. the next night he was back with the Bucs to play his 23rd NFL season.
“In the last two months it has become clear to me that my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” he said. “That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates and I love my supportive family. You make everything possible. … unfinished business.”
Christensen has every reason to believe Brady will be outstanding this season.
“I think he’s going to play very, very well again and a lot will depend on who’s in the surrounding cast,” Christensen said.
But Brady has a plan. He’s ready to roll.
“He has a great vision of where he sees this thing going,” Christensen said.
Maybe until Super Bowl 57.