Tom Brady’s illustrious NFL career has reached a new crossroads.
Monday night, the ‘GOAT’ suffered one of the worst playoff losses of his 23 professional seasons in what might have been his final game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – if not his final game, period.
In the aftermath of a 31-14 shellacking from the Dallas Cowboys, the league’s most decorated player heads into the offseason with an expiring contract yet seemingly several viable paths forward. But with a humiliating defeat serving as the capstone to his first sub-.500 NFL season, one checkered with professional and personal adversity, Brady wasn’t ready to discuss his future Monday, saying of his mindset, ‘It’s just been one day at a time, truly.”
But he appears to have three primary options, one with a subset of additional choices:
1. Retire … and make more money
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Brady, 45, hung up his cleats briefly last year. He could do it permanently now.
There are no significant records left to set. He could eat something more scrumptious than avocado ice cream. He could spend more time with his three children, a primary driver for his aborted retirement in 2022. He could live in California – or wherever – year-round, no need to go carpetbagging elsewhere for OTAs, minicamps, training camps and a five-month season. He could devote more attention to his BRADY apparel brand. And then there’s that lead football analyst TV gig with FOX, the one that will pay $375 million over ten years, per multiple reports.
A lot of good reasons to not subject himself to further damage from the likes Nick Bosa, Aaron Donald, Micah Parsons, et al. … to say nothing of the general and inevitable wear and tear the NFL exacts from every player annually – and Brady is generating compound interest on that front.
2. Re-sign with the Bucs
All things considered – football-wise, anyway – three pretty great years in Tampa. TB12 and the Bucs won 37 of 57 games, reached the playoffs in every season, claimed two divisional crowns and, of course, prevailed in Super Bowl 55 as the first club to win the Lombardi Trophy on its home field.
Injuries, the transition away from former coach Bruce Arians and upheaval in Brady’s personal life were key factors in a far less satisfying 2022 campaign, the first time TB12 went one and done during postseason in Tampa. But could the Bucs recapture the magic in 2023? Brady – he’s not subject to the franchise tag this offseason – notwithstanding, the bulk of Tampa’s core players remain under contract. However changes are inevitable given GM Jason Licht needs to shave nearly $44 million, per overthecap.com, to get his roster compliant with this year’s projected $225 million salary cap – which doesn’t include whatever it would cost to re-up Brady.
3. Sign with a new team, perhaps one of these six
Even at Brady’s ridiculously antiquated football age, there will doubtless soon be suitors for his services. Perhaps including:
Las Vegas Raiders: If you believe UFC president Dana White, Brady nearly came to Sin City three years ago. Now? The Silver and Black are punting nine-year starter Derek Carr, a decision that will leave them with roughly $50 million in cap space once Carr’s presumed exit frees up an extra $29 million. That should be more than sufficient to reunite Brady with Josh McDaniels, his longtime offensive coordinator in New England. Plenty of toys, namely All-Pro WR Davante Adams, on this offense – especially if NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs is franchised and/or re-signed. However, McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler will clearly need to fortify the interior offensive line given TB12’s lack of mobility and need to step up in the pocket. Oh yeah, Nevada’s lack of a state income tax would also give Brady a little extra funny money for the tables.
New England Patriots: Could owner Robert Kraft, HC Bill Belichick and Co. run it back three years after Brady’s largely surprising exit? Stranger things have happened. All parties are well aware of what they accomplished in conjunction – nine Super Bowl appearances and six wins, 17 AFC East crowns, the only undefeated regular season in the past 50 years, countless records and so much more. If Brady wants to go out on top, he knows this organization realizes what’s required. The Patriots also have more than $33 million in rainy day funds.
And yet Brady and McDaniels were in cahoots for TB12’s final eight seasons in Foxborough – he was the offensive coordinator for 11 overall – and Belichick’s set-up in 2022 did incumbent QB Mac Jones no favors (New England is currently searching for an OC). There’s also the question as to whether this team has the requisite firepower to win, RB Rhamondre Stevenson the only Patriot with more than 800 yards from scrimmage in 2022. But the O-line is in good shape, and Brady rarely played with All-Pro wideouts and ball carriers in New England, so …
New York Jets: Would Brady possibly suit up for Belichick’s archenemy? We know TB12 likes living in New York. We know the Jets have better offensive weaponry and, based on 2022, a superior defense. We know NYJ owner Woody Johnson is willing to pay for the quarterback his team needs, and we think the Jets are just a competent passer away from being an AFC powerhouse. What we didn’t know is whether Brady is willing to go full Favre and would embrace the idea of facing the franchise that gilded his legend twice per season, at minimum.
Seattle Seahawks: What they don’t have is newly minted Pro Bowl QB Geno Smith, who’s 13 years younger than Brady, under contract. But if Smith ultimately walks, a team that also lost in the wild-card round will have to weigh its options. That could mean drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick obtained from the Denver Broncos in the Russell Wilson blockbuster. Or it could mean earmarking part of their $35 million free agent war chest for a veteran who allows 71-year-old coach Pete Carroll’s team to remain competitive in the near term while enabling it to develop a successor for the long run. Brady wouldn’t have to throw it 60 times a week here yet would surely enjoy having WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at his disposal. And aside from the Raiders, this could be his only other realistic option to return to the West Coast.
Tennessee Titans: They don’t have cap space, and they don’t have top-shelf receivers. However, they do play in a winnable division and need to do something to recapture momentum from the fan base with a new Nashville stadium on the horizon. The Titans also have a coach, Mike Vrabel, who’s a former teammate of Brady’s and now a good friend. TB12 would likely fit seamlessly into this culture and probably wouldn’t mind resting his arm just a bit and handing off more frequently to that Derrick Henry guy – a stud who would also make it easier to find open guys downfield than what Brady dealt with in 2022.
Washington Commanders: Team Turmoil could be on the verge of another tumultuous offseason – though this time, that could actually mean a sale and change of ownership. However, if that occurs, it won’t be overnight, and a guy mulling a 24th NFL season likely doesn’t want his next boss to be an unknown variable (though just about anyone west of Putin is an upgrade over the current variable). On the football side, Washington does have a respected coach, young and capable offensive playmakers and a propensity – as of now anyway – to overspend on veterans with loaded NFL résumés. Just sayin’, don’t discount the possibility … especially if Brady’s options to keep playing begin to dwindle.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.