In a perfect world, Tom Brady would have played out his career with the New England Patriots. His final season would have scripted to include tributes from all of the opponents who struggled to beat him during his two decades under center.
The truth is, he should have been allowed to step away like Derek Jeter did, acknowledging the cheering crowd at Yankee Stadium with a tip of the hat after a storybook finish.
Brady deserved that. The Patriots deserved that. Most importantly, so did their fans.
It will not be that way. In a move that really should come as no surprise, Brady used his Instagram site Tuesday morning to announce his time with the Patriots, perhaps the most prolific 20-year run in the history of sports, was over.
“To all my teammates, coaches, executives and staff, Coach (Bill) Belichick, RKK (owner Robert Kraft) and the Kraft family and the entire organization,” Brady wrote on a post. “I want to say thank you for the past twenty years of my life and the daily commitment to winning and creating a winning culture built on great values. … Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments.”
Where Brady would land was anyone’s guess until later in the day when reports indicated he would be signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team experiencing its own transitions at the position.
Brady will follow in the footsteps of Hall of Fame QBs like Joe Namath, John Unitas and Joe Montana who all played their finals seasons with teams other than the ones they helped win championships.
Why the six-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP will not be back is a matter of conjecture. But it’s safe to say the Patriots, particularly coach Bill Belichick, did not share Brady’s vision of the future.
The Patriots reportedly made Brady an offer to retain him, but it was obviously inadequate, in likely both dollars and duration. Brady, who is 42, has said many times it’s his desire to play until he’s 45 and that would have required a multiple-year deal for nearly $100 million, most of that likely guaranteed.
No matter how much history they made together, that was a price Belichick was not willing to pay.
Brady will officially become a free agent on Wednesday when the NFL’s new fiscal year begins. The Patriots will be saddled with a $13.5 million dead salary cap hit for not re-signing him.
In a statement to ESPN, owner Robert Kraft said: “Tommy initiated contact last night & came over. We had a positive, respectful discussion. It’s not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest. After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son.
“How do I possibly sum up the depth of my gratitude to Tom Brady for what he’s given us these past 20 years. … He has brought so much happiness to me personally and to all of our fans. I had hoped this day would never come, but rather that Tom would end his remarkable career in a Patriots uniform after yet another Super Bowl championship. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow that dream to become a reality. While sad today, the overwhelming feeling I have is appreciation for his countless contributions to our team and community.”
Despite how this came to and end, there’s no doubt the Brady-Belichick-Kraft coupling was the most successful in NFL history.
Originally a sixth-round pick out of Michigan in 2000, Brady went on to set a host of records after taking over as the starter following an injury to Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season.
Brady has the most Super Bowl victories by a player (six), most Super Bowl MVPs (four), most Super Bowl touchdown passes (18), most Super Bowl passing yards (2,838) and most regular-season wins by a starting quarterback (219). He also ranks second in career passing yards (74,571) and touchdowns (541), trailing only Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Brees just signed a two-year extension with the Saints on Tuesday.
Brady’s last season with the Patriots was not his finest. Without a number of offensive weapons, Brady’s passer rating was 88.0 in 2019, his lowest since 2013.
After the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs in the wild-card round by the Tennessee Titans, speculation immediately surfaced that he had played his final game in New England.
“There’s a lot of speculation, a lot of people who don’t have any information,” Brady said in February. “I haven’t put too much thought into those things other than understanding the situation I am in, which I knew I was going to be in at the beginning of the year and just taking these things day-by-day. Again, the reality for me is the season didn’t end that long ago. There is still time to decompress a little bit and that will happen and continue to happen after the season. I will take those days as I need them and deal with the different emotions and ultimately when the time comes decide what’s next, that is what I will do.”
Whatever the Patriots do next, it will never come close to what they have just lost. Remember, the Patriots never had a losing season on Brady’s watch, winning 17 AFC East titles, including 11 straight.
“Tom was not just a player who bought into our program. He was one of its original creators,” Belichick said. “Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone-setter and a bar raiser. He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in most every season in between. This is a credit to Tom’s consistency and what separates him. He didn’t just perform. He didn’t just win. He won championships over and over again.”