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Why Bucs expect Tom Brady to play in Tampa Bay if he unretires

Asked if he’ll play again, the quarterback said, “you never say never.” The team will put him on the reserve/retired list to retain his rights.
The Bucs are proceeding as if Tom Brady has retired and they must move forward with other plans at quarterback.
The Bucs are proceeding as if Tom Brady has retired and they must move forward with other plans at quarterback. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 9|Updated Feb. 9

TAMPA — Tom Brady’s “never say never” comment earlier this week regarding a potential comeback created plenty of attention, even among those within the Bucs’ organization.

“I don’t know how I’ll feel six months from now,” Brady said during his Let’s Go! podcast Monday with Jim Gray. “It could change, it most likely won’t. I try to make the best possible decision I can in the moment, which I did this last week. And again, I think it’s not looking to reverse course; I’m definitely not looking to do that.”

The Bucs are proceeding as if Brady has retired and they must move forward with other plans at quarterback. They’re going to invest a lot of time and effort evaluating free agents at that position as well as investigating any and every trade opportunity.

They have not removed Brady from their roster, but that represents a lot more than wishful thinking.

If Brady is removed from the active roster prior to June 1, it will result in a $32 million hit on the Bucs’ salary cap. After that date, they can divide that amount with only $8 million counting toward the 2022 cap and $24 million pushed to 2023.

That’s not insignificant considering the large number of unrestricted free agents the Bucs hope to retain, a list that includes wide receiver Chris Godwin, cornerback Carlton Davis, center Ryan Jensen, guard Alex Cappa, safety Jordan Whitehead, defensive end Ndamukong Suh and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, to name a few. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is a free agent as well but hasn’t decided whether he will play in 2022.

What’s just as significant is the designation. The Bucs will place Brady on the reserve-retired list, thereby retaining his rights moving forward. If he is simply released, he will become a free agent, able to sign with any team.

It’s probably cynical to think Brady has some private agenda to return to the NFL with a third team. His representatives reached out to the 49ers shortly after he ended his 20-year career with the Patriots as a free agent.

Brady grew up in San Mateo, California, attending 49ers games at Candlestick Park with his family, rooting for Joe Montana and Steve Young. To be part of that rarefied quarterback fraternity would have meant something to him. But at the time, the 49ers were coming off a loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54 and had signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal.

The Glazer family that owns the Bucs are so grateful for all the things Brady brought their organization the past two years, you could see them granting his release if he really wanted it.

“Obviously, a very big decision on his part, but we’re just extremely happy that he chose us,” general manager Jason Licht said last week. “We have a lot of gratitude toward him for what he’s done for this organization and for this fanbase.”

In 2003, the Glazers allowed Rich McKay to accept a job as the Falcons’ general manager with only a couple games remaining in the season. In fact, two weeks later, the Bucs hosted the Falcons.

But Brady is so detail-oriented, starting over when he turns 45 in October would seem unlikely if he decided to play in 2022.

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The Bucs would like nothing more than for Brady to change his mind about retirement, and they have every expectation that he will play in Tampa Bay if he does.

Brady has been happy playing for the Bucs and living in the Tampa Bay area. He knows there isn’t anything the Bucs wouldn’t do if he decided to continue his career. They would sign any player. Give him whatever he thinks he needs to win. There would be no reason to leave.

The Bucs still are going to have a very good football team, one more than capable of winning the NFC South and returning to the playoffs. With Brady, you always have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

There’s also the very close relationship Brady has forged with Licht, who was a scout with the Patriots when Brady arrived as a rookie in 2000.

If Brady decides he wants to play again, the Bucs are convinced it will be in Tampa Bay.

“I like to keep conversations as confidential as possible, but I will say Tom and I have an unbelievable relationship built on trust,” Licht said. “Both of us held true to our word from when we started together here. This is not about me, but I feel extraordinarily lucky that I was there from Tom’s beginning to his end. His first pass, his last pass. His first touchdown, his last touchdown. So that’s pretty cool.”

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