Tom Brady’s Retirement Shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it does Create intrigue

The rumors of Tom Brady’s retirement started early and created a false sense of pressure for himself and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates to close the season. They ended with an NFC Divisional game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.

But Brady was playing at an all-time high level, even for a sure-fire Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest to play QB all-time. The latest sports news dropped not that he was returning, but he was confident in his ability.

Brady told ESPN: “I knew my body, physically, could still do what it could do an obviously I have love for the game, I think I’ll always have love for the game. I do think physically I’ll be able to do it. I just felt like there was still a place for me on the field.”

At 44 years old he led the NFL with 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. Nobody threw or completed more passes than Brady, either. All that, and he only threw six interceptions in what amounted to an MVP runner-up season.

Of course with those numbers, Brady could still play one more season. Showing no decline he may even be able to play till 50, though that would be quite a sight to see. But what it shows is that Brady really shouldn’t have retired in the first place, and maybe if rumors weren’t swirling, the Buccaneers would have beaten the Rams and perhaps been back-to-back Super Bowl champs.

The retirement

On Feb. 1, Brady announced his retirement and decision to focus on spending time with his wife, kids and reflecting on his football career. He said that he knew he could still play the game when he made the decision, and play it at a high level at that. That includes reflecting with former coach Bruce Arians about what they accomplished together in Tampa Bay.

The return

It was a retirement that lasted 40 days. On March 13, Brady announced he was coming back, though the retirement papers were never officially filed so he remained a Buccaneer. It was the most logical choice with the pros of warm weather, a rapport with receivers, and a team built to win. The tune was the same then as it is now, that he felt he still had more to give to the game.

A new challenge

Though instead of playing for Arians, it’ll be defensive coordinator Todd Bowles putting on the head coaching headset. On March 31, the Buccaneers announced Arians was stepping away from coaching and into a senior consultant role. Bowles was picked as part of a succession plan.

He has head coaching experience, going 2-1 as Dolphins interim head coach in 2011, and then was 24-40 as New York Jets head coach from 2015-18. That first season with the Jets was 10-6 until an unceremonious downfall led to their split.

Bowles has won championships in a variety of roles: as a player with Washington in Super Bowl XXII, as an executive (player personnel) with the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, and as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator in Super Bowl LV.

Timing of return

The NFL’s offseason has been as drama-filled as one can remember. Star quarterbacks have been traded at a high rate, causing the landscape to shift some. Denver acquired Russell Wilson from Seattle. Cleveland acquired and signed Deshaun Watson to a massive contract with Baker Mayfield still on the roster. The Colts acquired Matt Ryan from Atlanta and sent Cardon Wentz to Washington. Miami signed Teddy Bridgewater, and the Falcons added Marcus Mariota. Not to mention Aaron Rodgers is staying in Green Bay.

Brady’s return is far down the list of most surprising things to happen, though there was friction between Wilson and the Seahawks, Wentz and the Colts, and there was an expectation that Watson would be traded as well. Still, the nature of blockbuster trades outweighs the return of one of the NFL’s all-time best players.

Draft strategy

In a relatively weak quarterback draft class, it buys the Bucs time at that position, and with only six draft picks they can focus on their biggest needs and create depth with a veteran roster. Tampa Bay picked Tristan Wirfs in the first round and he was a big hit as an offensive tackle. Now they can look to the interior for a starting-caliber guard to plug a necessary hole.

With Bowles at the helm, they could look to shore up the defensive line with some younger prospects to either develop or plug and play with early-round picks. Cornerback is also a need worth addressing, though below an interior offensive lineman or defensive line help. Injuries popped up throughout last season and creating depth could help sustain a playoff run.

Sights on contending

Brady is easily the best quarterback in the NFC South, barring a massive trade. No rookie quarterback will match the experience and ability Brady showed a season ago. That alone should give Bucs fans hope to run away with the divisional crown.

Here are the other quarterbacks in the division:

Carolina: Sam Darnold, potential draft pick

Atlanta: Marcus Mariota

New Orleans: Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Taysom Hill, Ian Book

There also is a lot greater depth in the 2023 NFL Draft class with prospects C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Spencer Rattler, Anthony Richardson, Sam Hartman, Will Rogers, Hendon Hooker and Phil Jurkovec among those eligible.

The match

Besides, would Brady have been invited to The Match on June 1? Brady will pair with Aaron Rodgers against rising stars at QB in Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen for a charity golf outing that became popular during the pandemic.

OK, maybe Brady would have been invited regardless, but his return to the NFL for at least one more year certainly adds to the intrigue of the event.

For the NFL, its fans, and certainly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another year of Tom Brady is a great thing.

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