When Tom Brady called it quits from professional football last February, things were looking up.
Yes, the star quarterback had just been bounced from the playoffs, but it was in a nailbiter loss during the NFC Championship Game—just a year after he’d won a seventh Super Bowl at 43. Brady had the chance to ride off into the sunset with his reputation, family and sanity still intact, but he opted to test father time at least one more year.
Now, 11 months later, Brady’s embarrassing performance Monday night against the Cowboys—compounded by a bizarre interception in the endzone the Bucs could never recover from—has stained his playing legacy and capped a season to forget that included his wife of 13 years, Gisele Bündchen, divorcing him.
Brady, 45, dodged questions in a post-game press conference Monday about whether he plans to return to the NFL next season. When asked what’s next, he said, “I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep.”
Speculation on Brady’s future has been the talk of the NFL for months. Media reports have said he’s interested in playing for the Miami Dolphins so he can be closer to his children, two of whom live with Bündchen in South Florida. One NFL insider told NBC Sports before Monday’s collapse that a Brady move to Miami is “definitely on the table.”
Other reports have speculated Las Vegas may be his next destination. The Raiders are led by Josh McDaniels, Brady’s longtime offensive coordinator from his New England playing days, and they’re now searching for a quarterback with Derek Carr off the team. A source told CBS that Brady—despite a middling performance in 2022—would be a “program changer” in the desert.
Both the front office and players on the Buccaneers, who historically have the worst winning percentage among all NFL franchises, have suggested they’d have Brady back another year despite him leading the team to an 8-10 record this season.
“I’d love to play with him forever,” Tampa Bay lineman Tristan Wirfs told ESPN. “I love Tom. I wish everything was going as perfect as possible for him—if it is the last year for him.”
While his options appear to remain abound on the field, Brady stands to make even more money if he ditches it for the TV booth. It was reported last year that Fox has already penned Brady to a contract worth $375 million over 10 years that’s waiting for him once he finally retires.
Brady’s problems this season began way before the Bucs’ opening game. His marriage with Bündchen had been rocky for years, with Brady saying in 2020 that Bündchen once had to beg him in a letter to spend time with his family.
“I think my wife has, you know, held down the house for a long time now, and I think there’s things that she wants to accomplish,” he said on his “Let’s Go” podcast in 2021. “You know, she hasn’t worked as much in the last 10, 12 years just raising our family and kind of committing to being in a life in Boston and then moving to Florida.”
In his initial retirement announcement, Brady wrote that he was stepping away because of his family. That short-lived period—just 40 days—appeared to briefly mend wounds in Brady’s marriage, as he and Bündchen gushed over each other in Instagram posts to celebrate their anniversary. This renewed love was seemingly destroyed by Brady’s return to football, however.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady wrote on March 13 to announce his return. “I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible.”
Despite this optimism, Brady was absent from the Buccaneers’ pre-season training camp for 11 days. Simultaneously, Bündchen was posting photos with her and Brady’s children in South Florida—more than three hours away from where Tom was supposed to be in Tampa.
“His focus is on his career, mine is mostly on the kids,” Bündchen told British Vogue in June.
Bündchen was noticeably absent from each of the QB’s games to start the season—just as her husband’s play was arguably the worst of his 23-year career.
In October, Brady lost three consecutive games for the first time ever. A day after the third loss, to the Baltimore Ravens, Brady and Bündchen confirmed they’d divorced.
“You try to compartmentalize things and really focus on what your job is,” Brady said on his weekly podcast that week. “I know people [say], ‘Tom, you should have retired. You should have done this, you should have done that.’ And that’s OK…For me, there’s always gratification when you make this commitment, and you have a group of individuals that do the same and you see something pay off.”
Despite averaging just 6.4 yards per pass attempt this year (his worst average in 20 years) and throwing just 25 touchdown passes (the fifth-fewest of his career), the Buccaneers snuck into the playoffs with a losing record—Brady’s first ever—after barely winning the NFC South.
Brady’s spiraling season ended with Monday’s thrashing by the Cowboys, where the QB was captured screaming and slapping his own helmet after a second-quarter interception—a play and reaction that served as a microcosm for his year as a whole.
After a season from hell, taking Fox up on its massive TV deal is probably the most sensible option for Brady, but the newly single star hasn’t given any indication he plans to call it quits just yet.
“There’s no immediate retirement in my future,” Brady said on his podcast in October. “There was a retirement in the past, but I moved on from that.”