When the NFL schedule rolls out, take it for what it is: A Tom Brady farewell tour

·NFL columnist
·5 min read

Tom Brady is likely heading into his last season. When the 2022 NFL schedule is announced, act accordingly and consider it a farewell tour.

We know, you’ve heard that before. For years, any slip or struggle would translate into some proclamation that this was finally it ... only to have Brady turn it all around when it mattered most, either by winning a Super Bowl or showcasing a level of play that recalled some of the very best years in his long career. The epitome of that circle happened in the 2021 season, with Brady playing at a near MVP level in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only to fall short in a furious playoff comeback against the Los Angeles Rams (who then went on to win it all). It was the kind of ending where you assumed Brady would likely come back. He did, but only after a lot of drama and alleged maneuvering that may have involved a flirtation with the Miami Dolphins and the stepping down of head coach Bruce Arians.

But two things happened this week that hit a little different than past Brady developments. And absorbed in the context of Brady repeatedly stating his goal of playing until he was 45 (which he reaches this August), these developments should probably be taken at more than face value.

First, the broadcasting deal with Fox Sports, which builds a lucrative bridge to the next stage of Brady’s life. It was announced as being a partnership that will begin when Brady retires. That’s nebulous, leaving Brady plenty of wiggle room to assess his options at the end of next season and decide if he’s ready to permanently depart the field. The timing is also telling, particularly for the network, which is very unlikely to announce this kind of thing without having a solid idea of what Brady’s plans are. If he’s not already planning for 2022 to be his last, Fox has just taken a massive roll of the dice that it could be waiting two years (or theoretically longer) for Brady to retire, while also hoping that he doesn’t change his mind in that significant span of time.

Tom Brady isn't saying how long he will play, but his deal with Fox Sports is an indicator that this will be his last NFL season. (John Parra/Getty Images for IWC Schaffhausen)
Tom Brady isn't saying how long he will play, but his deal with Fox Sports is an indicator that this will be his last NFL season. (John Parra/Getty Images for IWC Schaffhausen)

That’s not a normal thing for any television network. Most especially when there is reportedly a $375 million deal on the line, a figure that is certain to weigh heavily in other talent negotiations across the entire corporation moving forward. There’s virtually zero chance that Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch announces on an earnings call (of all things) that Brady is in the fold if it’s a distant partnership. And there’s even less chance that Fox ponies up that kind of serious money just to put Brady on layaway for an unknown period of time.

The likely scenario: Brady’s timeline is exactly what he hoped it would be. He’s planning to retire permanently at 45, having played out 2022 as his last hurrah. And then he’s going to transition into a broadcasting career that will actually pay him more over the next 10 years than he made in 23 years playing in the NFL. He’s telegraphing the ending. We just need to accept what the signs are telling us. Sort of like the moment when he put his estate up for sale before his final season in New England. Those in the know said that was a sign of an ending that was already in the works. Everyone else was operating in hopeful ignorance. So take it for what is is. The announced deal with Fox is the metaphorical “for sale” sign on Brady’s front lawn. The next move is coming, whether people want to accept it or not.

Don’t think the Buccaneers are blind to it, either. If they were, they wouldn’t have forced new season-ticket holders to commit to 2022 and 2023 when locking up their seats. Aside from the Fox deal, this might be the next most blatant sign that Brady is heading into his last campaign with the team. It’s the only reason to leverage tickets in that manner.

Which brings us to the other sign that Brady appears to be heading into the home stretch of his career. This one is more subtle, but it tracks for a guy who is looking to squeeze every last ounce of football he can in his final year. When the Buccaneers posted photos Wednesday of phase two of the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, there was a surprise waiting for everyone. Tom Brady had shown up and was throwing the football, and he was expected to take part in a second day of workouts as well.

That was an eyebrow-raising moment, given that Brady was so opposed to voluntary offseason workouts that he lobbied NFL veterans to skip them while speaking during an NFL Players Association meeting last May. All of this can be taken two ways. Either Brady changed his mind and sees a necessity to work with new teammates in what amounts to an offseason positional mixer of sorts; or he knows that 2022 is going to be his curtain call and he’s maxing everything out in anticipation of the end.

Given the other factors in play — reaching his goal age for retirement and the massive Fox deal — it’s fair to assume Brady’s appearance for light workouts is the latter: a casual sign that the end is coming.

Of course, this is Brady we’re talking about. He lives to defy the boundaries others have placed on him as a player. He couldn’t stay retired for more than six weeks. And he’s repeatedly managed to replenish both his fire to march on and the willingness of his body to comply with that mission.

Nothing is 100 percent when it comes to his departure from the NFL. But the signs and the deals in place suggest it’s closer than ever before. And that should have fans mulling over the Buccaneers' 2022 schedule for what it likely is: an ending.

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