The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tom Brady announces he is retiring from the NFL, ending days of uncertainty about his future

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement on Feb. 1. Brady won a record seven Super Bowl championships during his career. (Video: Reuters)
7 min

Tom Brady ended the most decorated career in pro football history, and this time it’s official. The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback announced Tuesday that he is retiring after 22 NFL seasons in which he secured seven Super Bowl titles and became one of the most enduring icons across all of sports.

“This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore,” Brady wrote on social media. “I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.”

Brady’s official pronouncement came three days after Saturday’s confusion in which his health and wellness company announced he was done playing, then backtracked. But this time, Brady made the announcement himself.

Tom Brady through the years

“I’ve done a lot of reflecting the past week and have asked myself difficult questions,” Brady wrote. “And I am so proud of what we have achieved. My teammates, coaches, fellow competitors, and fans deserve 100 [percent] of me, but right now, it’s best I leave the field of play to the next generation of dedicated and committed athletes.”

Brady, 44, walks away after winning six Super Bowl crowns during his two decades with the New England Patriots, then another with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is the NFL’s career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, among many other categories. Brady was a three-time NFL MVP and a five-time Super Bowl MVP.

“Tom Brady will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “An incredible competitor and leader, his stellar career is remarkable for its longevity but also for the sustained excellence he displayed year after year. Tom made everyone around him better and always seemed to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments.”

Brady led the league in passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes even in his final season, his second with the Buccaneers after leaving the Patriots amid much fanfare in free agency before the 2020 season.

“I wish it didn’t have to end, but few players have the opportunity to leave the game on their own terms,” Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said in a statement. “Even fewer can do it while playing at an elite level. Tom is the exception.”

The Buccaneers were eliminated from the NFC playoffs in a divisional-round game against the Los Angeles Rams nine days before Brady’s retirement. Brady and the Buccaneers overcame a 27-3 deficit to tie that game in the final minute but lost, 30-27, on a field goal as time expired. He could not quite complete another remarkable comeback in what would be, as it turned out, his final game.

Brady said after that game that he had not made a decision about retirement. His retirement was confirmed on social media Saturday by his company, TB12 Sports. A person with knowledge of the matter said Saturday it was believed that Brady indeed was retiring. ESPN reported that Brady was done playing. But the company later deleted its retirement post, and Brady’s agent, Don Yee, issued a statement in which he said Brady “will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy.”

Jenkins: On paper, Tom Brady was unremarkable. On the field, he grew into a legend.

As recently as Monday night, Brady said on his “Let’s Go!” podcast that he had not made a decision.

“I’m just still going through the process that I said I was going through,” Brady said on the podcast. “Sometimes it takes some time to really evaluate how you feel, what you want to do. And I think when the time’s right, I’ll be ready to make a decision one way or another, just like I said last week.”

A father of three, Brady had spoken of the family concerns weighing on him. It became increasingly clear that it was not about whether he would retire but about his intention to reach a decision and share the news on his terms.

“We’re in such an era of information, and people want to be in front of the news often,” Brady said on Monday’s podcast. “And I totally understand that and understand that’s the environment we’re in. But I think for me, I’m just literally, it’s day-to-day with me. I’m just trying to do the best I can every day and evaluate things as they come and trying to make a great decision for me and my family.”

Brady’s announcement was somewhat anticlimactic after the events of the previous few days. The tributes to his unmatched NFL career still poured in for a second time since the chaos of Saturday.

“Tom Brady is the fiercest competitor and greatest player I’ve ever faced,” former NFL linebacker London Fletcher wrote on Twitter. “His excellence on the field is beyond legendary.”

One former Patriots teammate, linebacker Tedy Bruschi, wrote on Twitter: “You did your job better than anyone ever has. Well done, my friend.”

Brady thanked a lengthy list of people in Tuesday’s online farewell address but initially did not mention the Patriots. He ended his career in Tampa but remains inextricably linked to the team that famously selected him in the sixth round of the 2000 draft — 199th overall — out of the University of Michigan. Brady told Patriots owner Robert Kraft that he would represent the best decision the Patriots ever made. He was prescient.

The Patriots did acknowledge Brady’s retirement, and Kraft said in a statement: “Words cannot describe the feelings I have for Tom Brady, nor adequately express the gratitude my family, the New England Patriots and our fans have for Tom for all he did during his career. A generation of football fans have grown up knowing only an NFL in which Tom Brady dominated.”

Brady responded to that by thanking “Patriots Nation” and writing on Twitter: “I’m beyond grateful. Love you all.”

He became the Patriots’ starter because of an injury to veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and moved quickly toward becoming an unparalleled winner. He was as ruthlessly competitive as his coach, Bill Belichick. He formed a rivalry with fellow quarterback Peyton Manning, first with the Indianapolis Colts and later with the Denver Broncos, that defined the sport. Brady was ceaselessly productive and durable, although he missed almost the entire 2008 season after suffering a knee injury in the opening game.

But the legacy of the Patriots dynasty was complicated by scandals. Brady was suspended by the NFL and, following a lengthy legal tussle, missed the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in the Deflategate scandal after the league concluded that the Patriots conspired to use improperly underinflated footballs for competitive gain. The reports of palace intrigue — and of a strained relationship between Brady and Belichick — mounted as the dynasty began to crumble, and Brady went to Kraft’s home in March 2020 to inform Kraft of his intentions to leave.

After the Buccaneers beat the Patriots in early October of this season in Brady’s return to Foxborough, Mass., Belichick and Brady had a private postgame meeting. Brady often had spoken of playing until he was 45. More recently, he left open the possibility of playing even beyond that. Instead, he retires six months shy of his 45h birthday in August. He previously acknowledged that his wife, model Gisele Bündchen, had pressed him to leave the sport with his health intact.

“I always came off the field and home to the most loving and supportive wife who has done EVERYTHING for our family to allow me to focus on my career,” Brady wrote Tuesday.

Brady will be eligible in five years for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He could be joined by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who just announced his retirement, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s now-former Patriots and Buccaneers teammate who has yet to announce whether he’ll return for another season. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also has not said whether he will retire.

More on Tom Brady’s NFL career

Considered by many the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady announced on social media that he is stepping away after 22 seasons.

Sally Jenkins: On paper, Tom Brady was unremarkable. On the field, he grew into a legend.

From 2017: Tom Brady didn’t just have the best Super Bowl ever. He played the greatest football game ever.

Jerry Brewer: Tom Brady is incomparable. So why do so many insist on comparing him to others?

From 2016: In the beginning there was Brady-Manning Part 1, and an NFL legend was born

From the archives: Brady’s Rise to ‘King of the Hill’