TAMPA — Saying he has “unfinished business,” Tom Brady ended his retirement and announced Sunday that he will quarterback the Bucs in 2022.
Brady made the NFL-jolting declaration on social media one day after visiting with members of the Glazer family, who own the Bucs, as a guest at a Manchester United game.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady said. “That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business.”
The timing of Brady’s announcement is not coincidental. It came on the eve of the start of the free-agent negotiating period.
Not only was Tampa Bay exploring alternatives at quarterback, including a possible trade for the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, they have numerous starters set to hit the free-agent market. That list includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is now more likely to return to the Bucs.
In fact, just several hours after Brady unretired, center Ryan Jensen agreed to terms on a three-year, $36 million deal with the Bucs.
The Bucs can now focus on building around the future Hall of Famer once again with other free agents such as guard Alex Cappa, running back Leonard Fournette and safety Jordan Whitehead.
“We are really excited,” coach Bruce Arians said in a text to the Tampa Bay Times.
Arians said the Bucs have had regular contact with Brady during his “retirement.” Brady and his two sons, Jack and Ben, accompanied him to a Manchester United game against Tottenham at Old Trafford Stadium on Saturday in Greater Manchester, England. They met with Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest soccer player in the world, and had talks with members of the Glazer family.
On Sunday, Arians said Brady contacted him, the Glazers and general manager Jason Licht.
“Talked a few times lately,” Arians said. “But yes, he told owners, Jason and me.”
“We are thrilled that Tom has decided to come back this season,” Licht said in a statement released by the team. “We said we would leave all options open for him should he reconsider his retirement and today’s announcement is something we have been preparing for in recent days.
“Bruce and I have had plenty of conversations with Tom recently, which led us to believe there was a realistic chance he would want to come back. Tom is the greatest quarterback of all time who is still playing at an elite level. With his decision now made, we will continue to move forward with our offseason plans to reload this roster for another championship run.”
Arians said he was unsure what the tipping point was for Brady’s decision to return this season but he wasn’t surprised by it. “Not at all.”
Brady led the NFL in passing last season with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns at age 44. Attempting to defend their Super Bowl 55 championship, the Bucs beat the Eagles in the NFC wild-card game.
The next week, Tampa Bay hosted the Rams and watched Brady rally his injury-riddled team from a 27-3 deficit, only to lose 30-27 on a game-ending 30-yard field goal by former Buc Matt Gay. The Rams went on to win Super Bowl 56.
When asked if Brady’s return will affect the Bucs’ ability to retain their own free agents, Arians said, “Oh yeah, guys love playing with him.”
The Bucs were facing a possible rebuilding year without Brady. Former Florida Gators star Kyle Trask was the only other quarterback under contract for 2022. Even backup Blaine Gabbert will become an unrestricted free agent.
On Saturday, the Bucs began clearing salary-cap space, renegotiating the contract of defensive tackle Vita Vea. They also used the franchise player tag on receiver Chris Godwin and still hope to reach an agreement on a long-term contract before the start of the new league year Monday.
Brady also will need a new contract. He had a deferred a signing bonus of $15 million due him last month before he retired. That will now need to be paid in some form, although Brady could add another year to his deal to improve the salary-cap situation.
While the Bucs had explored trading for Watson, the Glazer family would have had to sign off on that decision after 22 women filed civil suits alleging sexual assault against the quarterback. A grand jury in Houston did not return indictments on any of the nine criminal complaints.
Arians had never been optimistic about acquiring Watson. “Don’t think it would’ve gone that way,” he said.
“Tom Brady loves to play football as much as anyone I’ve ever been around,” Arians said in a statement. “As Tom said, his place right now is on the football field. ... We are ecstatic that he decided to continue playing and working toward winning another championship.”
The Bucs’ best scenario at quarterback had always been Brady changing his mind about retirement. Several times he had hinted at the possibility, saying, “you never say never.”
Brady also told golfer Fred Couples on a podcast that he wasn’t sure what his future held. “I wish I had a clear vision of what the future holds ... I know I said right after football season I was looking forward to spending time with my family,” Brady said. “And I’ve done that the last five weeks. And I know there’ll be a lot more of that, too.”
Tom Brady Sr. told 7News in Boston that his son felt “pressured by outside forces” to make an earlier decision to walk away. He said he was looking forward to golf with his son but is “excited” he’ll play again.
At the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago, Licht was asked if the Bucs had moved on from Brady.
“We’ll leave the light on. You always leave the light on for a guy like Tom Brady,” he said.
On Sunday, Brady found his way back home to the Bucs after just 41 days.
“I don’t want to put words in his mouth,” Arians said of Brady’s reason for returning. “But LFG!”
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