Tom Brady’s retirement lasted 40 days.
After seemingly leaving the door cracked for a potential return since announcing his departure from the NFL on Feb. 1, Brady announced his return on social media Sunday.
These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands. 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 LFG pic.twitter.com/U0yhRKVKVm
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) March 13, 2022
It’s a consequential moment not only for Brady — who finished the 2021 season second in the league’s MVP voting — but also for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had been mulling over whether to pursue a Deshaun Watson trade this week. As recently as the NFL scouting combine last week, Tampa Bay was believed to be high on the list of preferred trade destinations for the embattled Houston Texans quarterback. So much so that one team that was also weighing a serious pursuit of Watson told Yahoo Sports that it believed the Buccaneers would be the leading contender if Brady remained in retirement and Tampa Bay ultimately opened trade talks with the Texans.
That’s a moot point now, as Tampa Bay gets Brady back into the fold and begins the process of retooling parts of the roster around him. That will require at least some heavy lifting, including replacing Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet, who recently retired, and working on a wide receiver depth chart that loses Antonio Brown and may not have Chris Godwin for the start of the regular season following surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Barring some contract restructures or signing Godwin to a long-term deal (he’s currently franchise-tagged for a one-year salary of $19.1 million next season), the Bucs have work to do loosening up their salary. With Brady’s return, they fell into negative salary-cap territory on the doorstep of the legal tampering period of free agency, which opens Monday.
Tampa Bay has a slew of free agents that appear likely to depart, although that could change with Brady’s return. Among the key offensive players expected to hit the market are tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette and a few others. (Center Ryan Jensen, hours after Brady's announcement, is returning to Tampa on a three-year deal, his agent told the NFL Network.)
The Bucs are also poised to lose defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerback Carlton Davis, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and safety Jordan Whitehead on defense.
But what they won’t have to do is figure out how to fill a hole at quarterback that didn’t appear to be an easy fix. Tampa Bay had spent the past several weeks doing its due diligence on multiple players who were either slated to hit free agency or could have potentially been trade targets. That included Watson, who avoided a grand jury indictment last week on allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
A Harris County grand jury heard testimony from some of the women who leveled criminal complaints against Watson in relation to the 22 civil lawsuits he’s currently facing. The jury also heard information gathered from a Houston Police Department investigation into the complaints, ultimately declining to indict Watson on any of the nine counts presented by the Harris County prosecutor’s office.
That decision has now ramped up renewed interest in Watson’s trade market, with teams seeking information about the state of the civil suits against him, as well as the status of the NFL’s investigation into potential personal conduct violations.
A source familiar with Watson and the Texans said Tampa Bay had been taking a slower and more deliberate approach than others since Friday’s grand jury decision. It now appears that Brady’s status may have played a part in that, particularly after he visited with ownership while attending a Manchester United match over the weekend. The Glazer family owns both the Buccaneers and Manchester United.