Tom Brady won't be making another Super Bowl run this season, after he and the Buccaneers practically crawled to the finish line of a 31-14 loss to the Cowboys on Monday night. The defeat was the second-most lopsided in Brady's 23-year career as an NFL quarterback, and marked just the fourth time the longtime Patriots star went one-and-done in the tournament. Now what?
Brady, 45, was predictably noncommittal about his plans in the aftermath of Monday's loss, telling reporters he'll "take it one day at a time, truly." But what are his actual options? What's the most likely outcome for the seemingly ageless signal-caller? And if, somehow, he comes back for a team other than the Bucs, what are the top landing spots?
Here's a rundown:
Will Tom Brady retire?
Maybe. But probably not. ESPN's Joe Buck said on Monday's post-game show that "people inside the league believe" Brady will return for a 24th season in 2023, but also suggested that Brady himself doesn't know his plans. It sounds eerily similar to last offseason, when the QB flirted with retirement, then officially hung it up, only to return less than two months later. As Buck and Troy Aikman noted, the reality is that if Brady has gotten this far, he's probably got enough love for the game to continue.
What will Brady do if he retires?
That we do know. Last May, months after his abrupt return from "retirement," Brady reportedly struck a record 10-year, $375 million deal with Fox Sports to become the network's lead analyst on NFL broadcasts once he's done playing.
What if he decides to come back?
Then the NFL will likely be better for it. Declining or not, Brady remains an anomaly of the sport -- and sports, in general -- and proved even in a down year that few are as capable of engineering improbable crunch-time heroics. His contract with the Buccaneers, however, expires in March, meaning he's due to hit free agency for the second time of his career, and since 2020.
Could he return to the Buccaneers?
Yes, but it feels unlikely. Brady has a documented affinity for team brass, most notably the Glazer family that owns the franchise and helped recruit him from New England in 2020. Life in sunny Tampa, Florida, is probably more pleasant than in many NFL cities at this stage of his career. And he's got a brief but important legacy as a Buccaneer, instantly correcting an era of team irrelevance by winning it all in his MVP-caliber debut season. That said, the 2022 Bucs were a different animal: with Todd Bowles replacing Bruce Arians at head coach, injuries decimating an aging lineup, and uninspired efforts from both staff and supporting cast, Brady sunk to uncharacteristically lackadaisical lows during the first losing season of his career as a starter. Aside from the fact he also navigated a high-profile divorce while returning to the team this year, Brady reportedly entertained a potential split after the 2021 season, perhaps when it became apparent the Bucs were headed toward an inevitable restructuring.
If he doesn't return to Tampa, then where will he go?
That's the million-dollar question! Here's our educated guess at the most logical landing spots for Brady, in the event he decides to play at least one more season and hits the open market, just as he first did following 20 years with the Patriots:
|This hinges on the arrival of new ownership, which is now expected. And surely Washington, after so many mid-tier veteran swings, would rather acquire a longer-term answer. But Ron Rivera has to be a little impatient, too, and he has the foundational pieces to attract Brady -- a promising dual-man backfield, a No. 1 wideout in Terry McLaurin, plus a physical defensive front that's kept Washington feisty in a tight division. Money shouldn't be an issue after Carson Wentz's inevitable departure, and Washington isn't necessarily well positioned to draft a new face of the franchise.|
|Miami was literally penalized by the NFL last offseason for impermissibly contacting Brady about a potential team-up both in 2019 and 2021. So it's not like both sides haven't already dreamed this up. Now, the Dolphins are perhaps better positioned than anyone to bring it to fruition. Tua Tagovailoa made strides as the QB under Mike McDaniel this year, but his extensive injury history has clouded his short- and long-term availability. Brady, meanwhile, is already in Florida, he'd get at least two shots at his old pals in New England, and he'd have premium weapons out wide. Also, his arrival as a quick fix for a contender wouldn't necessarily erase Tua's prospects of reclaiming the job down the road.|
|Every time Brock Purdy has taken the field as the 49ers ' starter, the rookie has further cemented himself as the team's improbable future under center, executing Kyle Shanahan's offense with the poise of an All-Pro vet. With former first-rounder Trey Lance also in tow, an all-in play for Brady feels like a long shot, even assuming Jimmy Garoppolo heads elsewhere. And yet, which contender has relied on multiple QBs more than San Francisco in recent years? Brady grew up in the Bay Area and loved him some 49ers growing up, and his quick-decision vision is perfect for a system built to keep the ball flowing to the play-makers, so on paper, it's a match made in heaven. But the Niners might not be able to afford tweaking a good formula just for the sake of uniting a legendary name with a legendary franchise.|
|Brady famously owned the Jets while dominating with the Patriots, but these days, Gang Green is the more well-rounded playoff hopeful; the only thing they glaringly lack is a proven QB. Besides the all-time storyline possibilities of TB12 pulling a reverse Bill Belichick and going from New England to New York, Robert Saleh's squad would offer an ascending run game, receiving corps and defense. Brady, meanwhile, would inject instant credibility into a locker room that practically celebrated Zach Wilson's benching in 2022. The main holdup, frankly, is whether the Jets prefer a slightly longer-term possibility like Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo, if not a blockbuster swing for someone like Lamar Jackson .|
|It'd be wild, yes. Bill Belichick is probably more likely to go all out for a spicier upgrade (can you imagine Lamar Jackson here?) as he enters his age-70 season desperate for his first real playoff run post-Brady. But no one should ever rule this out completely. Brady built his legacy here, and mutual respect remains, regardless of popular opinion. New England has plenty of cash to retool the offense. Mac Jones could stand to take another seat and get his bearings. And it'd be a natural springboard into real retirement for Brady, when the time comes.|
|Derek Carr has already said goodbye in anticipation of a trade or release, marking the end of a long and gritty but mostly disappointing era of Raiders football. Who better to reset expectations as Josh McDaniels enters year two than the coach's longtime partner in crime from the Patriots? Las Vegas will have money to spend thanks to Carr's eventual split, and Davante Adams is already in tow as a No. 1 target, with Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller also due for rebounds. Making another title run wouldn't be a cakewalk in the same division as the Chiefs , but in terms of system familiarity and big-market appeal, the silver and black make sense (and reportedly already plan to be aggressive in pursuit).|
|If Sean Payton were coming back to man his old post in New Orleans, this would be far more likely. Out of respect for the Glazer family and the Bucs community he reshaped, Brady will probably steer clear of the NFC South. And yet, assuming the Saints can get out of their annual salary-cap mess, Dennis Allen's defense -- which has given Brady so many fits just from his time in Tampa -- would be an appealing asset, as would emerging weapons like Chris Olave . Don't count on this one, but a year after New Orleans tried spending big on Deshaun Watson , don't rule it out, either.|
|The Titans pursued Brady in 2020 free agency before re-signing Ryan Tannehill , whose pricey contract is now fully expendable after an injury-laced letdown. With general manager Jon Robinson gone and coach Mike Vrabel, Brady's friend and former Patriots teammate, taking command of the ship, this ever-physical AFC South contender would offer the QB a chance to return to New England-like roots, relying on a bruising ground game to win cold-weather games that matter in a winnable division. The money isn't abundant here, but Brady's never commanded top dollar, and his arrival wouldn't preclude Malik Willis or another youngster from developing down the line.|