Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback who established himself over more than two decades as the NFL’s most prolific winner and arguably its greatest player, announced Wednesday that he is retiring.
Brady, 45, won seven Super Bowls over his 23 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is the league’s career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, among many other categories. He was a three-time league MVP and a five-time Super Bowl MVP.
“I really thank you guys so much … for supporting me — my family, my friends, my teammates, my competitors,” Brady said, becoming more emotional as the video progressed. “I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”
His latest retirement announcement came one year after he retired last Feb. 1, only to reverse course and return to the Buccaneers less than six weeks later.
He had a trying final season. Brady’s team had a losing record for the first time in his career, although the Buccaneers reached the postseason before they suffered a lopsided defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. Brady also experienced intense scrutiny of his personal life as he and his wife, model Gisele Bündchen, announced their divorce.
Brady was eligible for free agency this offseason. He already has lined up a lucrative broadcasting contract with Fox, reported to be worth $37.5 million per year, to take effect after his playing career. It is unclear whether Brady will step into his Fox role next season or take some time entirely away from football first.
Speculation had begun about Brady’s next team. The San Francisco 49ers and Las Vegas Raiders were mentioned prominently as potential free agent destinations. Some associates believed Brady was more likely than not to play another season, saying family considerations — and proximity to his children, who live in Florida and New York — would be crucial in determining a new team. But they said they also knew retirement was a distinct possibility.
Some in the Buccaneers organization wondered aloud on the night of the team’s 31-14 playoff loss to the Cowboys on Jan. 16 whether the dispiriting nature of that defeat might nudge Brady toward retirement — just as the promising, near-miss feeling associated with the team’s postseason loss to the Los Angeles Rams a year earlier might have contributed to his decision to return.
As he left the field at Raymond James Stadium that night last month, Brady stopped by the tunnel leading to the Buccaneers’ locker room and spoke to his parents and his sister. His mother was visibly emotional following the conversation. But Brady gave no public hint later that night about his next steps, saying: “I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep — as good as I can tonight. … It’s been a lot of focus on this game. It’ll just be one day at a time, truly.”
He said it felt like the end of any other season and provided no indication whether he had decided at that point to walk away from the sport. He did close his postgame news conference with what sounded like a farewell, although maybe only to the Buccaneers rather than to the entire NFL.
“I just want to say thank you, guys, for everything,” Brady told reporters. “I really appreciate all your efforts. I know it’s hard for you guys, too. It’s hard for us players to make it through. You guys have got a tough job. I appreciate all that you guys do to cover us. … I love this organization. It’s a great place to be. I thank everybody for welcoming me. All you regulars, I’m just very grateful for the respect. And I hope I gave the same thing back to you guys.”
Even in his final, post-retirement season, Brady set single-season NFL records for passing attempts and completions. His stated goal had been to play until he was 45, which he achieved.
Brady will be eligible to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2028. His Hall of Fame class is set to include J.J. Watt, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year who retired from the Arizona Cardinals after the regular season. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a four-time league MVP, has not said whether he will retire or continue playing, perhaps for a different team.
“Greatest of All Time,” Watt wrote Wednesday on Twitter of Brady. “No question, no debate. It’s been an honor and a privilege. … The newly retired group meets on the golf course every morning at 10am. Drinks are on the new guy, so bring your wallet.”
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht said in a statement: “Tom’s legacy is unmatched in the history of this game. All the Super Bowl titles and statistical records speak for themselves, but the impact he had on so many people through the years is what I appreciate the most. His imprint on this organization helped take us to the mountaintop. We will certainly miss him as our quarterback, but I will also miss him as a leader and friend.”
This retirement, assuming it sticks, was far more seamless than the previous version. Last year, Brady’s health and wellness company announced he was done playing, then backtracked. Brady announced his retirement three days later with a written statement posted to social media. The tributes poured in, only to have Brady announce March 13 that he was coming back, citing “unfinished business.”
Should this morning’s retirement announcement truly be the end of @TomBrady’s illustrious career, 2028 is a year worth noting. pic.twitter.com/w6xIaYKDe2— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) February 1, 2023
Brady’s usual on-field greatness was on display only sporadically this season. There were late-game exploits in last-second victories over the Rams and New Orleans Saints. But he also displayed frustration on the field and on the sideline. And there were off-field issues. Brady took time away from the team during training camp. He also drew attention for missing a Buccaneers walk-through before an October loss at Pittsburgh to attend Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s wedding in New York.
Brady, soon after being selected with the 199th choice of the 2000 draft out of the University of Michigan, told Kraft he would represent the best decision the team ever made. Brady was prescient about that; he, Coach Bill Belichick and Kraft were the mainstays of the franchise’s six Super Bowl victories over Brady’s 20 seasons with the team.
He won a seventh Super Bowl title in his first season with the Buccaneers after leaving the Patriots in free agency following the 2019 season.
His legacy includes some controversy. He served a four-game Deflategate suspension in 2016, imposed by the NFL for his alleged role in what the league concluded was a scheme by the Patriots to use improperly underinflated footballs. Brady played the entire 2015 season as he and the NFL Players Association managed to delay implementation of the suspension in court. He dropped his legal challenge and served the suspension after the league prevailed in a federal appeals court, which reversed a ruling in Brady’s favor by a U.S. district judge.
Before this season, the NFL suspended and fined Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and stripped that team of first- and third-round draft choices for tampering violations involving Brady and Sean Payton, the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Saints, while they were under contract to other teams. The league did not punish Brady or Payton, who is set to become the new coach of the Denver Broncos, for the infractions.
But mostly, Brady will be remembered as a ruthless competitor who reached the heights of his sport through unyielding determination and unrelenting work.
“I think there’s lessons for all of us every year, every year of our life,” Brady said last month following the loss to the Cowboys. “So you always want every year to end great. Unfortunately in sports, it doesn’t work that way. There’s 32 teams in the league. And they’re all very competitive. Only one of them is really going to feel good at the end of the year. … That’s why it feels good when you’re on top and you win it all.”