TAMPA — Trying to evaluate how much Tom Brady has lost as a quarterback at age 45 is like monitoring the imperceptible yellowing of the Mona Lisa.
Brady may not possess the same skills as the player who won seven Super Bowls, but there’s plenty of NFL teams that will line up to sign him as a free agent if he decides to continue playing in 2023.
Considering what’s at stake in Sunday’s game against Carolina — the Bucs can win the NFC South with a victory — it’s that time of year when discussion about Brady’s future ramps up.
Brady confirmed he was retiring last Feb. 1, only to reverse field and return to the Bucs 40 days later.
Brady said two things will be different the next time around.
“I think next time I decide to retire, that’s it for me,” Brady said on his Let’s Go! podcast this week. “So whenever that day comes, we’ll figure it out.”
When will Brady decide?
“I’m going to take my time, whenever that time does come,” he said.
But why wait?
The Brady speculation machine already officially has begun to crank up and we start in New Orleans.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported “there’s a growing school of thought” that former Saints head coach Sean Payton could return to New Orleans and resume his old job.
Brady and Payton tried to join up with the Dolphins for the 2022 season. In fact, Miami was sanctioned by the NFL for tampering with Brady and Payton, docking the Dolphins their 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick while suspending and fining owner Stephen Ross $1.5 million.
“Brady is a free agent after the season,” Florio said. “He can go anywhere. Why not the Saints? Why not team up with Payton? Why not play his home games in the stadium where he won his first Super Bowl?”
Certainly, the Saints check a lot of boxes for Brady. It’s not too far from the East Coast. He now has three kids who don’t live with him full time after his divorce from Gisele Bündchen.
The Saints defense has given Brady fits over the years. Payton is a strong play-caller with good pieces on offense such as running back Alvin Kamara, tight end/fullback Taysom Hill and receiver Chris Olave.
But before you pencil in Brady as part of Who Dat? nation, let’s take a step back.
For starters, Brady has a lot of options, including honoring a 10-year, $375 million contract with Fox to serve as a broadcaster on NFL games whenever his career is over.
But if he chooses to play, joining Payton would seem to be his preference. The question then becomes where is Payton coaching next year?
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He has already been linked to a possible opening with the Chargers (if they fire coach Brandon Staley) because of rising star quarterback Justin Herbert.
With the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Tua Tagovailoa due to his multiple concussions, there’s a thought that maybe Brady could revisit his plans to join the Dolphins, should they fail to miss the playoffs.
Other possible landing spots for Payton could include the Cowboys or the Broncos, but they both have high-salaried quarterbacks.
Before it’s over, there will be reports of interest in Brady from the 49ers, both the Jets and Giants, the Commanders and Panthers.
Brady and Payton are represented by the same agent, Donald Yee.
But here’s a few things that people close to Brady insist you should pay attention to.
If Brady does decide to play, don’t be surprised if the team with the best chance of having him at quarterback in 2023 is the Bucs.
Kyle Trask is currently the only quarterback under contract for Tampa Bay for next season. The free-agent market is weak at that position and the Bucs likely won’t have a draft pick before No. 20 overall.
Brady shares a special, close relationship with the Glazer family that owns the Bucs. He also is tight with general manager Jason Licht and many members of the front office.
For three seasons, the Bucs have demonstrated there isn’t a bridge too far to travel for Brady.
They will mortgage future salary-cap money, sign any free agent, swing any trade to upgrade the roster around him.
Of course, a lot will depend on how the rest of this season, and possibly the playoffs, play out.
If Brady wins another division title and makes an epic run in the postseason or to the Super Bowl, it definitely could influence his decision. Or if the Bucs continue to falter, he may want a crack at fixing it before calling it a career.
It seems unlikely Brady would want to stick it to the Bucs by joining a team in the same division. Also, keep in mind the Saints own Payton’s rights, so he’s not going to Carolina or Tampa Bay, for that matter.
But this is one situation where the Bucs could actually have a substantial home-field advantage.
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