TAMPA — Tom Brady has said he wants to play in the NFL until he is at least 45, but he’s signed for only one more season with the Bucs.
Everybody expects that to change soon, including their general manager.
When asked if the Bucs would consider extending Brady’s contract after watching him lead Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl 55 victory over the Chiefs at age 43, Jason Licht said, “it’s a possibility.”
More likely, it’s a probability.
Brady’s final season with the Bucs right now would be 2021, and he will earn $25 million. The Bucs could easily extend his contract by at least a year, turn much of that salary into a bonus and create some much-needed cap room to retain as many of their own free agents as possible.
Certainly, Brady has shown no signs of slowing down. In his first year in Bruce Arians’ offense, he passed for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns during the regular season, then added 10 TD passes in the postseason.
“We thought Tom played incredibly well this year along with the entire team, and we would love to have Tom play here — I can speak for Bruce, I think — as long as he continues to want to play,” general manager Jason Licht said during a conference call on Wednesday. “So, if that comes to fruition at some point, we’d be elated.”
No formal discussions are believed to have commenced, but both parties have expressed some interest in Brady remaining with the Bucs beyond 2021. “I’d like to keep those conversations private that we have right now,” Licht said.
The timing for such an extension? Expect it before the new league year begins on March 17.
The Bucs have said they want to keep as much of their championship squad together as possible. But the star-studded list of potential free agents includes outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, receiver Chris Godwin, inside linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Grokowski, receiver Antonio Brown and kicker Ryan Succop.
The Bucs have an estimated $13.361 million available under the $180 million salary cap, according to Overthecap.com.
Brady will undergo minor knee surgery that Arians has described as ”a cleanup” but otherwise showed no signs of his skills deteriorating.
He also has professed his love for the Bucs organization and life in Tampa. There is no young heir apparent at quarterback on the roster, with backups Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin both 31 years old.
Picking 32nd, it’s also unlikely the Bucs would use their first-round draft choice on a quarterback. That all adds up to Brady eventually being offered a chance to remain in Tampa a year or two beyond 2021.
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“He certainly didn’t look like he slowed down any this year,” Licht said Monday on the Rich Eisen Show. “It appears he had a really good time this year winning the Super Bowl and likes our organization. Likes our coaches, likes our head coach and ownership, and we certainly love him. Usually when you have those two things going for you, it’s a match made in heaven. So we’d like to keep this going.”
Keeping the band together won’t be easy. The Bucs still could use the franchise tag, which went to Barrett last season after he led the NFL in sacks with 19.5 in 2019. But Licht said there has been no decision about which player to tag, and they are focused on negotiating long-term deals.
Licht says he has had constant dialogue with Brady about personnel decisions but says the seven-time Super Bowl champion is consulted more in an advisory role.
“I would say Bruce and I both talk to Tom,” Licht said. “Why wouldn’t you, with the resume that he has? I think it gets a little bit overblown. Tom isn’t banging down the door saying, ‘We need to sign this guy. We need to sign that guy. Bruce, we need to draft this guy.’ We ask him his opinion at times (and) he gives us his opinion at times, but he never mandates anything, and he’s actually been a joy to work with.
“I think a little bit of that gets overblown. We like to advise with him on certain things, just like Bruce does with the game plan, but there has never been any kind of animosity or directive from him. In fact, most of the things that we do, we don’t consult with him on.”
There also are several key players who would consider restructuring their contracts to allow the Bucs to retain as much talent from the Super Bowl 55 team as possible. Arians has said receiver Mike Evans already has offered to give the Bucs some more salary-cap relief.
“I think we have a number of guys that would restructure if needed to be just to help the rest of the guys out,” Arians said. “Nobody’s giving up money. That’s one thing, for sure. They’re just pushing it in a different direction to help the cap. We’re in great shape. Jason (Licht) and Mike Greenberg have done a great job of keeping us in a great spot that way.
“It always comes down to dollars and cents, but it also comes down to fit. Guys know where they fit, and I think all these guys know they fit here. We’ll get the dollars right, and hopefully keep this core together.”
And that includes keeping Brady longer than one more season.