If Tom Brady truly is done with football, he deserves a better exit than what transpired on Saturday.
The greatest quarterback of all time, who won a record seven Super Bowl titles, who shattered every preconceived notion about athletes fading in their 40s, who became a cultural icon and married the world’s most successful supermodel, does not retire like that.
It was a clunky, awkward announcement, not befitting a GOAT. And it didn’t come from Brady himself.
It came at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps the time of the week that guarantees the least amount of buzz. It came on the same weekend of the NFL’s conference championship games, ensuring that Brady’s retirement would have been old news by the time the games ended on Sunday. And it came not from Brady or his marketing team, but from a tweet by ESPN reporters Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington.
Within an hour, it began to unravel. Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said in a statement that “Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy.” Brady’s TB12 brand deleted a tweet that honored Brady’s career. And Bucs GM Jason Licht told several reporters that Brady had called him Saturday afternoon, after the news had broken, to reiterate that Brady had not yet made up his mind about playing football in 2022.
That doesn’t mean ESPN’s report, which was later confirmed by the Globe’s Nicole Yang, is wrong. It hardly would be surprising if Brady decided to hang up his shoulder pads this offseason after 22 incredible seasons. He’s 44 years old, his children are getting older, he has a lifetime of off-field opportunities in front of him, and he has nothing left to prove in the NFL.
Like, literally nothing.
Brady has won nearly twice as many Super Bowls (seven) as any other quarterback (four). At 41, he became the first quarterback in his 40s to win a championship. He did it again at 43. He owns every major passing record. He is the only quarterback to author a 16-0 season. He left New England after 20 seasons and won a Super Bowl in his first year with the Buccaneers. He led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43) this season at age 44. He led the greatest comeback in American professional sports history, overcoming a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to defeat the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
So, no, it’s not a bad time to finally walk away from football. His one last goal, of playing through age 45, is still to be attained. But he has his health, his trophies, and all the money in the world. Might as well get out while you’re way, way ahead.
But he’s not going to go out like that.
He’s too PR savvy, and too culturally iconic, to let someone else control one of the biggest announcements of his lifetime. Brady is now a man with his own production unit, 199 Productions, and he creates his own 10-part documentaries. When he left the Patriots in March of 2020, he did it with a well-coordinated social media campaign. He first thanked the Patriots and their fans in a series of posts, and it wasn’t until the next day that Brady announced he would be joining the Buccaneers. If and when he does retire, it’s going to be slick, professional, and heartfelt. It’s not going to be done in an article on ESPN.com, without any comments from Brady himself.
He’s also not going to retire during the thick of football season. Were his retirement actually made official Saturday, he would have been the talk of all the pregame shows Sunday morning. But his announcement would have been forgotten by the time the conference championship games kicked off Sunday afternoon. By Monday, Brady’s retirement would be old news and out of the public consciousness.
“It would be a cold day in hell before Tommy Brady would retire the day before the championship games,” tweeted Charlie Weis, Brady’s offensive coordinator for his first three Super Bowl victories. “He would never want to be a distraction bringing attention to him and away from the games. It may be true, but ‘Come on Man!”
Brady said on his Let’s Go! podcast last week he’s going to decide soon, but “it’s not always about what I want. It’s about what we want as a family.” A decision from Brady is likely imminent. Brady received a $20 million signing bonus last year from Tampa Bay, but $15 million was deferred to Feb. 4, which is Friday. The Buccaneers almost certainly want to know Brady’s plans before then. If he retires, then the Bucs can keep not only the $15 million, but Brady actually owes them a repayment of another $1 million.
If Brady announces it this week, he’ll have the news cycle all to himself. By Wednesday, the conference championship games will be in the rearview mirror, and the Super Bowl will still be 10 days away. Perfect timing to fill the void with Brady’s big news.
As Weis acknowledged, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the news were true. The way everything went down Saturday had the feel of Brady being upset that he lost control of his biggest announcement. The statement from his agent, the tweet being deleted by TB12 and the reports that Brady called the Bucs to deny he had made a decision all had the feel of Brady doing his best to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Brady deserves a grander, more regal retirement announcement. The way the news broke on Saturday is not befitting a man of his stature.
He deserves his own stage, and to announce it on his terms.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.