TAMPA — Tom Brady was a surprise no-show at Buccaneers practice Thursday. He won’t be back with the team for at least a week and a half. And details are scarce.
Let the rampant speculation begin.
Bucs coach Todd Bowles said after practice that Brady, 45, will be excused from team activities until after the second preseason game against the Titans Aug. 20.
Brady will miss at least the preseason opener against the Dolphins Saturday, the joint practices with the Titans next week in Nashville, and the preseason game that follows.
Bowles did not provide much insight into why Brady is getting an extended absence, but said the Bucs have known about this for a while.
“He’s going to deal with some personal things,” Bowles said. “This is something we talked about before training camp started. We allotted this time because he wanted to get in and get chemistry with the guys and go through two weeks of training camp, knowing he wasn’t going to play the first two games.”
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told WDAE radio in Tampa that Brady’s absence was planned long ago and isn’t a concern.
“Of course we were going to let him do what he needs to do,” Licht said. “He’s focused as ever. He’ll come back even more focused. It’s the least of our concerns.”
Among the more plausible explanations for Brady’s absence:
▪ He and his family are taking a trip that was planned for this time of year when he was supposed to be retired.
His wife, Gisele Bundchen, has wanted Brady to retire for years so she and the family can move on with their lives. The “pre-planned trip” theory also may explain why Brady got three days off around his birthday last week.
Would anyone be surprised if, after Brady announced his retirement this past February, he and Bundchen planned an elaborate vacation to take in August, which they could never do because he was always playing football? And that Brady made the vacation a condition upon his return to the Bucs in March?
This theory fits in well with Licht’s comment that “we were going to let him do what he needs to do.”
The Bucs will gladly work around Brady’s schedule if it means he comes back for this season and makes them a Super Bowl contender again.
▪ Someone in Brady’s family is dealing with a health issue.
NFL Network reported that Brady’s absence was about work/life balance and “not a medical emergency.” That certainly is the scenario everyone is rooting for. Brady’s parents are getting older, and his mother survived a bout with breast cancer six years ago.
But after Thursday’s practice, Bucs linebacker Devin White made it sound as if Brady is dealing with something.
“On the inside, we know what’s going on,” White said. “We’re just praying for him, and let him handle his business. ... More than football, we’re praying for whatever he got going on as a human, and that’s all we ask for, for his well-being. Football comes second. Him being a human being comes first.”
The Bucs were adamant that Brady’s absence was pre-planned. It’s possible that he informed them earlier that a family member was sick and he may have to take time away. Hopefully this is not the case, and everything is OK with the Brady family.
▪ He is considering retirement again.
Brady has shown several signs that he isn’t fully committed to playing football anymore. He already retired once this offseason before changing his mind after 40 days. And we know his primary goal this year wasn’t to play football but to be an executive with the Dolphins. That got squashed by the Brian Flores lawsuit, and Brady decided to return to the Bucs only as a fallback.
Brady’s excused absence last week got Bucs fans nervous that he is considering retirement again. Now this extended absence has them really nervous.
Bowles was asked about his confidence that Brady will be the Bucs starter for Week 1.
“Mine is pretty high,” he said. “Obviously there’s always going to be doubt, but I have a pretty high level of confidence.”
That’s not a 100 percent yes. There’s a lot of wiggle room in that answer.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Brady decided that he has had enough football. His best buddy, Rob Gronkowski, retired. Center Ryan Jensen, the linchpin of the offensive line, suffered a significant knee injury and may miss the entire season. Brady’s receivers are banged up. The Florida heat and humidity are miserable.
Brady wouldn’t be the first veteran player to show up to camp and decide that he doesn’t want to do it anymore.
Bowles reiterated that he’s not worried about Brady returning.
“It’s a personal issue, and that’s all I can tell you,” Bowles said. “Per our conversation, I am not worried.”
Everyone else in Tampa sure is, though.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.