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Tom Brady’s exit interview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week should be short and sweet, and the organization should say something along the lines of, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
Brady’s time with the franchise was everything the Bucs could have hoped for and more after the NFL’s highest-profile free agent ever signed. The three-time MVP changed a losing culture, helped lead the franchise to its second Super Bowl victory and set multiple records along the way.
All the while, the clock was ticking.
Despite Monday’s embarrassing performance in a 31-14 Wild Card Round loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the 45-year-old icon likely isn’t done. Brady is obsessed with winning. He’s addicted to the game. He’s been great for so long that he really doesn’t know anything but success. As such, the thought of his actually stepping away from football on such a down note seems unrealistic.
Where he will play next is the next great question.
“I don’t know,” Brady told reporters Friday. “You guys gotta write something new every day. So I just wake up, show up and try to do my job.”
Brady endured a tumultuous year on both a personal and professional level. On the field, the 23-year veteran posted his lowest average yards per attempt (6.4) since 2002 and worst QBR (52.5) since the the stat became a thing in 2006.
“You try to compartmentalize things and really focus on what your job is. And I think our team—there’s a lot of outside noise and I know people [say]: ‘Tom, you should have retired. You should have done this, you should have done that.’ And that’s OK,” Brady said on the Jan. 2 edition of his Let’s Go! podcast (h/t ESPN’s Jenna Laine). “… For me, there’s always gratification when you make this commitment and you have a group of individuals that do the same and you see something pay off.”
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The Buccaneers should see the obvious downward trend, and the squad is on the precipice of a much-needed rebuild after selling out the last three seasons to keep Brady’s championship window ajar.
Brady enters this offseason as a free agent, as does Lavonte David, Akiem Hicks, Julio Jones, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Aaron Stinnie, Keanu Neal, Carl Nassib, Logan Ryan, Jamel Dean, Anthony Nelson and Scotty Miller.
To make matters worse, Tampa Bay is hamstrung financially. The Buccaneers are projected to be $43.4 million in the red before any moves are made, according to Spotrac. Brady himself accounts for $35.1 million thanks to a void year on his deal.
Multiple reworked contracts or even releases seem to be the next logical step in what should turn into a full-blown reassessment of the roster. Leonard Fournette, Cameron Brate and Shaq Mason are the type of veterans with exorbitant deals who become the starting point of a teardown.
The organization won’t waste any time cleaning house, as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is expected to be dismissed, according to Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds.
The Buccaneers can rework the roster, shake up the coaching staff, go in a different direction at quarterback and always be grateful for what the organization accomplished after Brady’s acquisition.
As for the quarterback, he remained non-committal after the disappointing loss.
“I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep,” Brady responded when asked about the future.
He added, “One day at a time.”
Multiple avenues still remain available, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer.
Albert Breer @AlbertBreer
.. We’ve said since November, and I still believe this to be true, the Raiders will look hard at bringing him in. The Niners have left the light on for him. The Bucs will want him back. And we’ll see on the Dolphins.
Of those mentioned by Breer, the San Francisco 49ers seem far less likely this week than they did a month earlier. That will remain the case as long as Brock Purdy continues to remain relevant during this postseason push.
The Las Vegas Raiders are the logical landing spot for Brady thanks to his longtime relationship with head coach Josh McDaniels. The two spent 13 years together with the New England Patriots with McDaniels as the quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator.
With two games remaining in the season, the Raiders benched incumbent Derek Carr, who has already said his goodbyes to the city, the franchise and its fans.
CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reported Sunday that the Raiders “plan to be very aggressive in their pursuit” of Brady.
Sin City isn’t the only place of potential interest for Brady and vice versa. The Miami Dolphins lost a first-round draft pick this year because of the organization’s half-baked plan to get Sean Payton as its head coach with Brady behind center, only to be found guilty of tampering with other franchises’ personnel.
Renewed interest will depend on the status of Tua Tagovailoa’s health. The Dolphins didn’t rush their quarterback back into the lineup for their postseason appearance after Tagovailoa suffered a second reported concussion, with a likely third not being diagnosed earlier in the season.
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“We fully expect him back next year, 100 percent, ready to go,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told reporters Monday.
The Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets seem to be less likely destinations yet shouldn’t be ruled out. All three are in need of an upgrade at the game’s most important position.
Carolina has searched for a starting quarterback for years. Granted, Brady would be a short-term solution. But he can provide stability for a young team with plenty of upside, especially since its likelihood of being shut out from obtaining one of the top three quarterbacks in this year’s draft class is high.
The Saints lack a first-round draft pick, so a veteran behind center seems to be a smart play. Besides, New Orleans tends to be a veteran-laden squad in win-now mode and always finds a way to work in big contracts under the salary cap. Brady could thrive with Alvin Kamara, Chris Olave and a committed Michael Thomas.
The Jets may be the most difficult sell at this point in the quarterback’s career because of defensive-minded head coach Robert Saleh and the lack of an offensive coordinator on staff, yet the idea of joining a ready-made lineup to compete for a playoff spot has to be appealing to Brady on some level. New York must soon make a decision whether it plans to end the Zach Wilson experiment.
Television beckons as well. Brady has already agreed to the richest deal ever for an on-screen analyst. He’ll immediately join Fox Sports upon his retirement—whenever that may be. Don’t expect it to happen soon, though.
The end is near for Brady’s playing career. Even so, the seven-time Super Bowl champion can still contribute and be a quality addition wherever he lands for his third NFL stop. In doing so, he will reinvigorate another franchise, its locker room and its fanbase.
Those qualities coupled with his experience and drive are exactly why it’s not yet time for Brady to retire, even if he shouldn’t play for Tampa Bay any longer.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.