The talk shows today are understandably a bottomless cup o' speculation about Tom Brady's future. But it's all just that. Conjecture. Guesswork. Opinions pulled straight out of asses. But no one really having the first clue. When he finally makes a decision, we're going to find out on his terms. In his time frame. On some platform he controls. The leak of his "retirement" announcement to ESPN was a rare, flukey mistake. He put it in the last episode of his Man in the Arena docuseries. It was sent to the network. Staffers saw it and sent it up the chain of command at the World Wide Leader, and that's how we found out. That mistake will not be repeated.
Until he makes his announcement, everyone's guess is as good as anyone else's. And all bets are on the table. Except one. There is no way Brady returns to Tampa Bay. That much is clear, at least.
First of all, there's the body language. You simply do not tip your cap to anyone as you're leaving the field (after one of the worst playoff performances of your career) unless you're waving goodbye. Second, there's the actual words he used afterwards. While not explicitly calling it quits, this is as close as you can come to saying "see ya":
I mean, that's about 100 words more than Patriots fans got when he ditched us three years ago. We got the Irish Exit. He didn't so much as give us the "It's not you, it's me" thing. This was Brady's version of Homer Simpson's "Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: YOU."
And it's been coming for a while. As I said back when he came back to the Bucs last spring, he hadn't retired from football, he retired from them. His return came with certain conditions. Beginning with the ritual human sacrifice of Bruce Arians to appease this angry god. Then the elevation of Todd Bowles, a defensive coach. Thus giving Brady complete control over his side of the football. As well as a say in all personnel matters. Then there was the 11-day sabbatical he took in the middle of training camp. Him getting Wednesdays off during the season, like a mom cutting back to an 80% schedule at work so she'll have more time to take care of the kids.
And yet, for all that, Brady was visibly frustrated all season long. Like I said, he's great at hiding his intentions. But he's terrible at hiding his emotions. The non-verbal communication was clear and obvious he was playing out the string in Tampa. I'm sure that once he's done clearing out his locker he'll take pictures, because he's not coming back.
Which brings us to the question of whether he should come back anywhere. Except to a sweet $35 million per year gig calling games for Fox. I've been clear in saying this season was a mistake:
And nothing that's happened since has changed my mind. Last night was just his fourth playoff one-and-done in 20 trips to the postseason. His passer rating of 72.2 was in the bottom 25% of his 48 postseason games, and the only reason it wasn't worse was one (and arguably two) touchdowns with the game out of reach. In short, he looked like he did for long stretches during the season as the Bucs finished 25th in points scored and went 8-10. Which is to say, he looked like he's gone over that cliff Max Kellerman started talking about three Brady championships ago.
Since I've painted myself into a rhetorical corner on this, I'll predict that he does come back. That he's motivated to not let it end like this. He'll look at how he led the league in attempts and completions, proving he still has the metahuman ability to stay healthy and be a walking advertisement for TB12 Fitness. Plus he's completely freed up from the "Cats in the Cradle"-style guilt about work taking him away from his wife and family. So his whole life can be just focused on football. With that Fox pot of gold still waiting at the end of his rainbow.
I think there's way too much smoke around him going to the Dolphins for their not to be a fire there. But the speculation about him going to Las Vegas to reunite with Josh McDaniels makes a ton of sense as well. I'd prefer he not do any more harm to his legacy and just call it a career - an unprecedented career that will never be equaled - but my guess is he's far from done. Just done with the Buccaneers. It's going to be an amazing next few weeks.