Tom Brady’s documentary finale hints at how fast end might be coming for his NFL career

When an NFL season ends in dramatic failure, there are often basic truths that have to be considered when it comes to players and the first few months of the offseason. Never read too deeply into outside interests. Never trust emotional statements. And never underestimate the game continually pulling aging stars back into the fold.

As the offseason goes on, lingering questions tend to find answers – for better or worse in the NFL.

While all of that is worth keeping in mind, it’s hard to get past the looming sense of the end for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Particularly after watching the final episode of “Tom vs. Time,” the six-part documentary vehicle that has taken fans as deep into Brady’s life as anyone has ever gotten. The final episode was released Monday, and it wrapped with a final minute that punctuated two pressing realities: The last season may have been the most difficult of Brady’s career, and the next season may very well be his last.

Tom Brady revealed some hard questions he’ll answer this offseason after a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles last month. (AP)
Tom Brady revealed some hard questions he’ll answer this offseason after a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles last month. (AP)

That’s what resonated with Brady’s final minute of narration into a camera – a moment that featured him asking the questions that often become the precursors to a final act.

“What are we doing this for?

“Who are we doing this for?

“Why are we doing this?”

If that kind of reflection wasn’t enough, Brady finished the project with one gripping philosophical thought before the screen cut to credits:

“You’ve got to have answers for those questions,” Brady said. “And they have to be with a lot of conviction. When you lose your conviction, you probably should be doing something else.”

It was a powerful way to end the series. And it felt very much like a purposeful message. One delivered by Brady himself, on his chosen platform – and with Brady ultimately deciding what made the cut in the documentary.

Those questions and that last line were dramatically delivered because that’s what Brady wanted. And that says a great deal. Despite all the talk about Brady playing into his 40s, he just delivered a message that suggests the end is closer than we thought. And it might have as much to do with Brady’s mind as his body.

His words weren’t the only ones that left a lasting impression, either. The series finale also featured his wife, Gisele, adding context to Brady’s mindset.

“These last two years have been very challenging for him in so many ways,” she said. “And I think he just wants – he tells me, ‘I love it so much and I just want to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.’”

That alone is an interesting statement, particularly the part about being appreciated, which seems to whisper back to the ESPN report alleging friction between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. It has become clear that there are some festering relationship struggles inside the Patriots. And it’s more than fair to wonder what kind of toll those have taken on Brady. After all, 18 years with any NFL coach can be difficult. But 18 years playing for Belichick is simply unprecedented.

If anything, the entire six-episode series of “Tom vs. Time” gave a solid read on the direction of Brady’s life. One where it becomes more obvious that the “what’s next for Tom?” question is on the doorstep. Not just for Brady, but for the Patriots.

It was evident in Brady’s emotional post-Super Bowl moment in February, when he embraced his family behind a curtain and tried to console his children after one of the toughest losses of his career. But even more so, you could see it in Monday’s series finale: With Brady asking the essential questions that define football mortality.

“What are we doing this for?”

“Who are we doing this for?”

“Why are we doing this?”

Peyton Manning experienced this introspection before his retirement. Brett Favre. Barry Sanders. John Elway. Ray Lewis. In a way, they’re all part of a rare NFL fraternity – filled with the few stars who get to ask those questions and then depart in their chosen moment.

These are the questions of the players who leave the NFL before the NFL decides to leave them first. Tom Brady is going to be in that class. Eventually, those answers are going to lead him to an ending.

And it might be closer than we realized.

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