TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht had an inkling it was coming.
It was Super Bowl Sunday last February and he’d been celebrating his birthday at home with his family when he checked his phone and saw a text message from quarterback Tom Brady, who had officially announced his retirement 12 days earlier.
“You could feel the passion, that’s for sure,” Licht told ESPN on Friday. “I just said it [my wife] Blair: He’s really into this game. You can tell he wishes he would play in this game. I don’t think the fire is out.’”
Brady wanted to talk about eventual champions Los Angeles Rams, who narrowly defeated the Bucs in the divisional playoff round three weeks earlier. That loss ended one of Brady’s greatest statistical seasons at age 44.
When Licht told reporters two weeks later at the NFL Combine, “We’re leaving a light on” for the seven-time Super Bowl champion, he knew there was a good chance Brady would come back.
Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen felt the same way about facetiming Brady as he watched him transition into life after the NFL with chores, but he wasn’t sure if it was just his own wishful thinking.
“I was kind of suspicious,” Christensen said. “I kind of always felt like, ‘Hey, this guy isn’t quite done playing football’ and last year he played so well.”
“Unfinished Business,” as Brady called it, got him back into football for a 23rd season. When he takes on the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC), he will become the first quarterback in NFL history to start a game at the age of 45. Even more inscrutable is that it follows an MVP season.
But on the precipice of the 2022 season, Brady took an unprecedented 11-day hiatus — unheard of for a player in training camp, let alone a quarterback — to attend to what have been labeled “personal things.”
“I’m 45 years old, man,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of s— going on.”
An air of mystery will accompany Brady into the season, both in terms of his on-field prospects and in terms of imagining when the future Hall of Famer will hang it up … for real this time. With that in mind, ESPN’s team of NFL reporters and analysts answered the biggest questions about Brady as he begins his third season in Tampa. — Jenna Laine
Why didn’t Brady’s retirement stick?
“I fell in love with this sport when I was a little kid and I think there’s still a great love for it,” Brady said in June. “I think, unfortunately, I will always…”
Brady’s longtime personal throwing trainer and friend Dr. Tom House wrote an entire doctoral thesis on professional athletes’ difficulties with letting go. He dubbed it “the terminal adolescence syndrome” and argued that because a professional athlete’s identity is forged with their sport at such a young age, it is often very difficult to reintegrate into mainstream society.
Added former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, “I remember when I came out people would ask me, ‘Hey, do you miss it? Do you miss playing?’ And I would say, “I don’t miss playing. I miss winning.” I miss playing those big games. You know, I miss playing the league game. I miss playing the Super Bowls, but just playing – it wasn’t much fun.
Brady can be different there.
“He loves the process as much as he loves the game. He’s just in love with the whole process that goes with football,” Licht said, adding that Brady has his own meeting with the pro scouting department every week to discuss opposing staff, sometimes with notes on players from 15 years ago.
“I think he put it on record that he has an illness, he just loves to throw the ball,” Licht said. – Laine
Where does this Bucs squad rank among Brady’s best going back to New England?
Last year I ranked Tom Brady’s best supporting actors of all time for ESPN and found that the 2020 Buccaneers were second only to the 16-0 Patriots of 2007. The 2021 Buccaneers were just as strong, but this year’s supporting role would have done it worse than last year.
Russell Gage is a talented receiver; Coming up with a positive DVOA reception in last year’s Atlanta offense is an impressive feat. But Gage is certainly not a Hall of Famer inductee like Antonio Brown, who still put in a top-notch performance before self-destructing for the Buccaneers last year.
We don’t know what else Julio Jones really has in the tank as WR4, and the tight end space is a lot weaker without Rob Gronkowski.
The real step backwards takes place on the offensive. Shaq Mason is a reasonable replacement for Ali Marpet, but Ryan Jensen, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury, has been a consistent All-Pro contender at center. We have to assume that a rookie, even a highly drafted one like Luke Goedeke, will have some trouble and not play as well as solid veteran Alex Cappa at left-back last season.
I would probably rank this Buccaneers supporting cast seventh in Brady’s career, behind last year’s Buccaneers as well as the five teams featured in my article from a year ago. — Aaron Schatz, football maverick
What’s your pre-season stats prediction for Brady?
My projection is 4,535 passing yards, 34 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
Brady is coming off a season in which he attempted 719 passes, the second-most in a regular season in NFL history. He also led the league in dropbacks (749), completions (485), passing yards (5,316), and touchdown passes (43). It’s only reasonable to expect lower passing volume this season, especially with Bruce Arians absent from coaching.
Brady’s projection in yards per attempt (7.1) is also down slightly, which makes sense considering he lost Gronkowski and Brown as goals and could go a game or two without receiver Chris Godwin.
Even with a projected decline in every passing category, Brady still checks in first in tries, second in yards, and third in touchdowns in 2022. At the end of the day, Tampa Bay’s offense runs through Brady. He has another extremely productive statistical campaign ahead of him. – Mike Ton
What are league executives saying about Brady’s 2022 season?
Many in the league wondered if Tom Brady’s arm was done after his final season in New England. Two years, 83 pass touchdowns and a Super Bowl later, the same executives won’t make the same mistake.
“You just can’t count him,” said an NFC executive. “I think last year in New England had trouble protecting him and his receiver guns weren’t great. Now he has a lot of weapons and is well protected and doesn’t show up like others would.”
Because of this, most in the league expect Brady to have another strong season, complicating his 2023 prospects as a free agent. Some are wondering if Brady, no matter how great, will have a harder time committing to the game after his brief retirement this offseason and 11-day absence from Bucs camp.
Then there’s the looming commitment to Fox as an NFL analyst. As several executives pointed out, Brady is getting a leeway he never had under Bill Belichick, and while he’s earned it, a new team might not want the headache. -Jeremy Fowler
Will 2022 be Brady’s last season?
I can’t see him play beyond this season. It’s been a weird year for Brady by the looks of it and the full football schedule is yet to come. For more than two decades he has been a paragon of clarity and reliability, both in terms of his game and his plans. But along with his unprecedented longevity came an unprecedented awkwardness — for Brady, anyway.
There were signs that he was so obviously unhappy with Tampa under Bruce Arians, even as he personally idolized the coach. There was his retirement, then within a week he was rambling on about it. There was his return and Arians’ move to the boardroom.
There was his massive post-playing broadcast deal. There were the manipulations that led to the suspension of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and minority owner Bruce Beal. And finally his arrival at the training camp, then 11 days off.
None of this should affect him as a player in a game he has long been as close to mastering as we’ve seen a quarterback do. But one can ask: where is his head going into his 23rd season at the age of 45?
As of the end of last season, he seems like a man tired of being pulled in so many directions, even though he created everything himself. It’s very understandable and understandable for any driven person in their mid-40s, but still points out that their life as it is is not sustainable.
For years Brady has spoken about the growing gap in his life, between the demands of how he approaches and plays the game, and how he serves as a parent, husband, son, friend and businessman, so much so that the gap has defined him as well like everything else.
It expands every year, and after this season the game will be what finally gives up. – Seth Wickersham
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34513672/answering-biggest-questions-tampa-bay-buccaneers-quarterback-tom-brady-2022-season Answering the biggest questions about Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s 2022 season