LAS VEGAS — The fact that Tom Brady had already called it quits once before didn’t stop the praise from flowing following his second retirement announcement.
Just three days after Brady declared he is hanging up his cleats once again, this time “for good,” multiple players lauded the seven-time Super Bowl champion Saturday ahead of this year’s Pro Bowl. Brady’s past year, the only losing season of his career, sure didn’t do much to change the opinions of his competitors.
For 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, Brady’s brief initial retirement proved to work out in his favor. Warner had played against both the Patriots and the Buccaneers — just never against Brady — prior to this season. If Brady had decided to stay retired, Warner never would have had the opportunity to play against him.
But because Brady decided to run it back in 2022, Warner got his chance.
“I knew that it possibly could have been his last ride, so the fact that we did get to finally compete against him and see him up close in person, it meant a lot to me,” Warner said.
After the game, a 35-7 49ers win, Brady told Warner that he loves watching him play and called him “a [expletive] great player.” The interaction was short but significant.
“Oh my gosh, I’ll remember that forever,” Warner said. “He’s obviously the greatest of all time. For him to respect me and respect my game, it means the world.”
For Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Brady’s retirement means the NFC South is back up for grabs. While Jordan playfully called Brady “annoying to play against,” he cherished their divisional battles over the past three seasons.
“He’s the most accomplished athlete of all time, right?” said Jordan. “I mean, that is what it is. Out of the 20 — or 75 — years he’s played in the league, he made it to the playoffs almost every year. That’s impressive.”
Only one of Brady’s teammates, Buccaneers offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, earned Pro Bowl honors this year. Wirfs expressed confidence that Brady would have returned to Tampa Bay if he were to play another season, despite the growing buzz that San Francisco, Tennessee, and Las Vegas were in the running as potential landing spots in free agency.
“There was a bunch of talk this offseason, ‘Oh, is he going to go somewhere else?’ ” Wirfs said. “I didn’t think he was going anywhere else. I thought he was either coming back or retiring. But I’m happy for him. I’ll miss him.”
Wirfs, who has only played in the NFL with Brady as his quarterback, said one of the best parts of protecting Brady was that he always knew where he was going to be in the pocket.
“He ain’t running very far,” Wirfs quipped.
Saturday’s remarks are just the latest tributes following Brady’s second retirement. Players across the league, teammates and coaches of the past and present, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have recently chimed in to share their thoughts on his storied career.
“I don’t see any other player going out and accomplishing what he’s accomplished as an individual on a football field,” Troy Brown, Patriots wide receivers coach and Brady’s teammate of eight years, said earlier this week. “There’s no other competitor that has the heart and the will to win. They don’t have the kind of heart that he has.”
Added Kraft, “We were really lucky to have him. As fierce as he was as a competitor, and as tough as he can be, he had a great heart.”
The conversation about Brady is likely to continue into the week leading up to the Super Bowl, but the overwhelmingly positive sentiment seems unlikely to change.
As Jordan put it, “Tom Brady’s just that great.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.