TAMPA — Tom Brady sure didn’t want to hang around Raymond James Stadium Monday night.
Moments after his season ended in a 31-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Brady didn’t linger long on the field and quickly made his way down the stadium’s tunnel. About 15 minutes later, he was already out of his uniform, dressed in an all-black outfit, ready to answer questions at the podium.
“As you were leaving the field tonight, were your emotions any different than the end of another season, than the end of last season?” a reporter asked. “How does tonight compare with what the feeling usually would be?”
“It just feels like the end of the season,” Brady replied.
The 45-year-old quarterback stayed at the podium for no more than five minutes before politely ending the press conference, expressing his gratitude for the media, and walking out. Within minutes, he dipped into his black Tesla and drove away.
Monday night’s game could have been Brady’s last, or, at the very least, his last as a Buccaneer. In attendance were his parents, Tom Sr. and Galynn; his close friend, trainer, and business partner, Alex Guerrero; and multiple other family members, including brother-in-law and former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
But Brady clearly showed no interest in savoring the moment.
Perhaps the lack of sentimentality is an indication he does plan on playing another year. For now, though, an offseason of uncertainty is ahead.
Brady will become an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any team, for just the second time in his 23-year NFL career. The negotiation window doesn’t open until March 13, but Tennessee, San Francisco, and Las Vegas are all already considered possible landing spots.
Asked Monday night about his impending decision, Brady wouldn’t shed much insight on his process. Nor would he share any details on a potential timetable.
“I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep,” he said. “As good as I can tonight.”
Although the market for Brady may not be robust, it appears the seven-time Super Bowl champion will have suitors. A pairing with ex-teammate Mike Vrabel? A storybook homecoming to the Bay Area? A reunion with his former longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels?
Miami also is an option, despite general manager Chris Grier stating publicly Monday that Tua Tagovailoa will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2023. After all, if the Dolphins do pursue Brady, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done so. An NFL investigation found that owner Stephen Ross violated league rules to contact Brady when he was under contract with the Patriots in 2019 and then again when he was with the Buccaneers in 2021.
Brady could also choose to return to Tampa Bay. The Bucs have some notable free agents on defense, but the bulk of their key offensive players remain under contract. If Brady signs elsewhere, he still carries a salary cap hit of $35.1 million in dead money next season.
Brady, who will turn 46 in August, has long said his goal is to play until he’s 45. In 2019, however, Guerrero said the two had started talking about the possibility of Brady playing until he’s 46 or 47. “Every year, he just adds another year,” Guerrero said at the time.
But Brady has also typically included a caveat when asked about his future. He says he’ll play until he, in his words, “sucks.” For a player with over two decades of high-level play, defying Father Time at each turn, it’s difficult to discern exactly when he’ll reach that point.
If Monday’s game was indeed Brady’s last, the disappointing performance was certainly a fitting end to his first losing season (8-9) in the NFL.
He threw his first red-zone interception since Week 5 in 2019. He was held scoreless at halftime in a playoff game for the first time since his first career postseason start in the 2001 divisional round. A garbage time touchdown and two-point conversion saved the result from being the most lopsided loss of his postseason career.
So, will Brady, the ultimate competitor, allow himself to go out on that note?
“You always want every year to end great,” he said. “Unfortunately, in sports, it doesn’t work that way. There’s 32 teams in the league, and they’re all very competitive, and only one of them is going to feel good at the end of the year.”