The NFL hasn't been without Tom Brady for over two decades, but that could soon change. Brady orchestrated an impressive comeback in the NFC Divisional game against the Rams, with Tampa down 27-3 at the 7:07 mark in the third quarter, and helped his team tie the game back up at 27 before losing on a walk-off field goal.
The loss immediately sparked questions about Brady's future in Tampa, where he's under contract for $25 million next season. Immediately after the game, Brady gave the standard non-answer and remained non-committal about what his future would be next season.
Not everyone was buying that, though.
Adam Schefter on @TheGregHillShow: "Tom Brady's a smart guy. When he says he hasn't thought about [retiring], of course he's thought about it."
Adds Brady will step back and take roughly a month to make a decision after talking it over with family.
Brady clarified his position on Monday when he appeared on the Let's Go! podcast with Jim Gray, where he went into a lot of detail about how this season went and ended, what the future may hold and what some of his priorities are.
Notably, Brady said he'll take his time to figure out what's next and will do something he hasn't for the last six months and spend significant time with his family.
"There's really no rush to figure out what's next. I'll know when I know," Brady said. "It's a day after the season and we can all decompress a bit — it's been six straight months of football. Now it's just time to spend some time with my family and my kids."
It's his family that Brady said have been key to getting him through this most recent season, one in which the Bucs were oft-injured and had several bad losses.
"Playing football, I get so much joy from and I love it. But not playing football, there's a lot of joy for that with me too, now," he said. "As I've gotten older, the best part is, football is extremely important in my life and it means a lot to me and I care a lot about what we're trying to accomplish as a team and I care a lot about my teammates. The difference now that I'm older is I have kids now too, and I care about them a lot as well."
For as bad as some of the losses were, though, Brady would've rather had that outcome than simply not played at all.
"I'd rather play and lose than not play at all," Brady said. "As much as the losing hurts, it's much more enjoyable for me to be in the arena than not in the arena.
But for however important playing vs. not playing is, it's also important to Brady that he plays at a high level.
"Every year I just have to make sure I have the ability to commit to what the team really needs. The team doesn't deserve anything less than my best. And if I feel like I'm not committed to that, or I can't play at a championship level, then you've got to give someone else a chance to play."
That wasn't a concern this year. At 44, Brady led the NFL in completions (485), passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43). It's the first time he's led the league in yards since 2017 and the first time he's led in passing touchdowns since 2015, back when he was still with the Patriots.
It's possible Brady retires quietly and without any fanfare or a farewell tour next season, saying it'd be 'distracting.' He also said he doesn't derive joy from talk of legacy or past accomplishments, but rather from simply competing.
And his team did that this year, going 13-4 with the league's second-ranked offenses. All that winning is nice, too. But Brady doesn't derive joy from that, either, at this stage in his career.
"The games become a bit of a relief when you get older. Rather than the thrill of victory, they become a relief of victory. The defeats can sting pretty bad and they hurt for a while," he said. "I'm proud and satisfied of everything we accomplished this year. I know when I give it my all, that's something to be proud of. And I've literally given it everything I've had this year, last year and the year before that. I don't leave anything half-assed."
Ultimately Brady has other priorities and responsibilities outside of football, too. Namely being a father and a husband to his wife Gisele, and it's in fulfilling those duties where the crux of Brady's decision whether to come back could lie.
“It pains her to see me get hit out there," Brady continued. "And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.”
"It's what relationships are all about. It's not always what I want. It's what we want as a family. And I'm gonna spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what's next.”