Monday afternoon, after it became clear that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy was going to miss significant offseason time with an elbow surgery, another round of lumber was added to an already raging Tom Brady campfire of what-ifs.
What if the Miami Dolphins had second thoughts about Tua Tagovailoa’s health?
What if Brady was waiting on Sean Payton to make a decision about his coaching future?
The possibilities for the 45-year-old quarterback seemed remarkably endless as the league faces yet another offseason of significant migration at the position.
By the time it was all over Wednesday morning, Brady’s future had been speculatively tied to as many as a dozen teams. But the question it ultimately ended with seemed the most logical as time moved forward through the noise:
What if Tom Brady simply walked away?
We’re about to find out, after the future Hall of Famer unceremoniously called it a wrap Wednesday morning, posting a short social media video from a beach where he labeled this retirement from the NFL “for good.” Unless this one is followed by last offseason’s “never say never” qualifications, this proclamation feels like it’s a definitive ending to his playing career — not to mention a final answer for teams that might have lined up for him in 2023.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how his retirement will shape the NFL’s landscape next season, from a handful of teams to the draft and even network television. Starting with …
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The buzz around the Senior Bowl when the week started was that Tampa Bay had been interviewing offensive coordinators with an emphasis on how a candidate’s scheme could help Brady get back to his 2021 form. Clearly the franchise’s offensive coaching shuffle prioritized Brady’s return.
Now that changes, and it appears the Buccaneers are facing two avenues: seek a veteran quarterback and hold off on a total rebuild (and the buzz at the Senior Bowl is pointing toward Derek Carr) or absorb the entire salary-cap hit associated with Brady in 2023 (rather than splitting it up post-June 1) and kick a rebuild into gear.
A name to watch here if it’s the total rebuild could be Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson, who is projecting all over the place in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Buccaneers have the No. 19 overall pick and Richardson has extremely high-level tools. There is a debate about whether he will need time and development to become an NFL starter. While it’s not a one-for-one talent comparison, think of Jordan Love in Green Bay. He ultimately slid in the 2020 draft because teams believed he would need patience and work before being ready to step into a starting job.
Whatever route the Buccaneers go, there is a rebuild on the horizon that will either begin in the next few months or get pushed off one more season based on the quarterback route that is chosen.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders wanted a shot at Brady next season, but a source close to the quarterback told Yahoo Sports in January that geography was going to matter in his decision and moving away from his kids (who live in the Miami area) was likely going to eliminate a move to Las Vegas in the long term.
You could feel that reality setting in over the last week, as chatter became more prominent that Brady was focusing more on an “either-or” scenario between retirement and a distant option of returning to Tampa Bay for one last season. We should have taken the Raiders fizzle as more of a realistic bellwether on Brady’s retirement than we did, especially when some of his former teammates, like Julian Edelman, insisted he wasn’t going to return to Tampa Bay.
Regardless, Brady’s decision clarifies things for the Raiders, turning their attention to a potential quarterback selection with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. If Las Vegas likes one of the high-level names this year — including Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — it might have to move up for its target, given that so many teams ahead of it appear positioned to trade back this year to teams looking for quarterbacks. The Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions are all trade-back candidates sitting in front of the Raiders in the draft.
Those close to Brady who were very loose-lipped about what was going on with him and the Dolphins last offseason maintain that if Brady had his choice entering this offseason, Miami team owner Stephen Ross and the Dolphins would still be at the top of the list.
That said, Miami makes this list only as a cursory note to what Brady had interest in pursuing … not what the franchise was entertaining. Down the stretch and even after the concussion that ended Tua Tagovailoa’s season, it was clear to Brady that the team was moving forward with its young quarterback. Brady wasn’t going to be an option, despite it making the most sense to his life/football balance.
San Francisco 49ers
This is the only team that should give anyone pause about Brady’s retirement. It’s the only team that could pick up the phone at some point in the offseason and change Brady’s mind. That now appears to be off the table, given that the forthcoming Purdy elbow surgery doesn’t appear to be wiping out his 2023 season.
If Purdy’s injury had gone the other way, however, San Francisco absolutely could have been a team in play for Brady and I think there would have been a conversation in the building. Now? All the money is on two scenarios: Purdy and Trey Lance having an “open” quarterback competition next season that would begin with Purdy having the unspoken edge; or Lance being dealt this offseason and Purdy being the assumed starter with a reliable veteran backup addition to support him.
Purdy ran the offense at a level that made head coach Kyle Shanahan happy and leaned on a running game and defense that should be able to run it back in 2023, even without defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans (who is now the head coach of the Houston Texans). There’s no way Lance is named the outright starter this offseason, despite technically losing that position to injury last season. At best, Lance has to hope that he can get into the offseason program before Purdy returns and show significant strides.
Whatever the case, Brady no longer makes sense here unless there is concern about Purdy’s injury prognosis stretching out to a longer timeline, or that he won’t be able to pick up where he left off in the postseason.
All the teams speculatively tied to Brady that were never realistically in play
This list is long, but here we go: the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots (eye roll), New York Jets (double eye roll), Washington Commanders (c’mon, what are we doing here?) … were never going to be on the Brady radar.
Some of those destinations were dart throws tied to people who Brady either had a solid relationship with (Mike Vrabel and Bill O’Brien, for example) or once had an interest in joining, depending on his landing spot (see: Sean Payton). The rest was the typical calculus of “hey, here’s a team with a need” or someone just needing to fill some television time with words (Rex Ryan’s Commanders speculation).
Brady’s horizon always boiled down to retirement and a small handful of teams. The rest of this was noise in the long term.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers
Just a little food for thought here: If Rodgers retires this offseason, it technically means he goes into the Hall of Fame in the same class as Brady, since both are hammerlock first-ballot players. It’s very fair to wonder if Rodgers is interested in that and whether it might provide just a few more molecules of motivation to stick it out in the NFL one more year, so he doesn’t become the second fiddle in his Hall of Fame class.
We want to believe that this kind of thing isn’t real, but we would be wrong most of the time. Brady walking now may very well help a Rodgers trade suitor, given that it feels 50-50 that he continues in Green Bay in 2023.
NFL draft, free agency and trade market
No need to get too deep into this. The draft could get impacted at the top due to the Raiders being squarely in the mode of looking for a quarterback and needing to figure out if someone from this class is worth the pursuit. Same for further down with the Buccaneers and their sudden void. Both will factor into free agency as well, if the draft can't offer the right resolution.
As for the rest of free agency, the Buccaneers have a handful of aging players who won’t be re-signed with a reboot appearing to be on the way. There could also be some salary-cap casualties with Brady’s remaining $35.1 million dead cap hitting the books. Tampa also becomes a candidate for trade vultures to make calls looking to add a piece at a bargain price. Very few players on the roster are absolutely safe at this stage — especially the ones who aren’t still on rookie contracts or are in the final stretch of their prime (Mike Evans).
Now that Brady is retiring, his availability to Fox Sports technically begins now. It will be interesting to see if the network makes any attempt to put him into the fold for the Super Bowl. A source with the network told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that there hasn’t been an indication whether that might happen.
Either way, it now becomes a larger storyline about what Brady’s exact role will be for the network — not to mention who would have to take a back seat in the booth when it comes to next season’s games. Given the rise of Greg Olsen in Fox Sports’ game coverage, this will be an interesting decision. We also have no idea whatsoever if Brady will be good as a broadcaster, making that a fascinating storyline of next season.
That's a lot of ripples tied to one man. But also a testament to what Brady has meant to the NFL on the field and off. The league will survive without him. The question is how he will survive without the league.