Rarely does the inevitable come with such a jolt. But that’s what happened Saturday afternoon, word leaking that Tom Brady will apparently retire from the NFL after 22 spectacular – and unparalleled – seasons.
Yes, Brady is 44. Yes, it was becoming apparent last weekend that retirement might be on the table after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. Yes, there’s literally nothing left for TB12 to achieve.
Still, news that the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) – reminder to those of you who utter “GOATs,” pluralized, it’s a misnomer – will walk away didn’t seem real.
The shockwaves are sure to reverberate far and wide …
Brady’s legacy: Let’s try to encapsulate something so prodigious – seven Super Bowl rings (record), five Super Bowl MVPs (record), three league MVPs (probably), 15-time Pro Bowler (record), holder of nearly all of the NFL’s significant passing marks (notably passes attempted, completed, touchdowns and yards, both in the regular season and playoffs). The laundry list of TB12’s accomplishments is well known, but the fact his level of play never seemed to waver – he’ll likely be the MVP runner-up for the 2021 season, when he led the league with 43 TD passes and a career-best 5,316 yards through the air – might be as impressive as anything considering how quickly “younger” legends like Brett Favre and Peyton Manning tailed off so suddenly at the end of their sterling careers. In the age of social media and hot takes, it’s hard not to be a prisoner of the moment … but it’s hardly a stretch to assume we’ll never see another like Tom Brady.
Brady’s family: The legendary quarterback has been a shared asset for the majority of his career, wife Gisele Bündchen and his three children (two with Bündchen) supporting him throughout much of it. But Brady acknowledged shortly after the loss to the Rams that he had to weigh his familial duties against his desire to continue playing. “They’ve been my biggest supporters. My wife has been my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there, and she deserves what she needs from me as a husband, and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad,” Brady told broadcaster Jim Gray. “I said this a few years ago: It’s what relationships are all about. It’s not always what I want; it’s what we want as a family. … I’m going to spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what’s next. … Playing football, I get so much joy from. I love it. But not playing football, there’s a lot of joy in that for me also now too, with my kids getting older and seeing them develop and grow,” Brady added. “All of these things need to be considered and they will be.” And here we are.
George Blanda: The Hall of Famer was 48 when he threw his final NFL pass at the end of the 1975 season. Appears Blanda will retain his distinction as the league’s oldest active player, Brady leaving just short of his stated goal to play until he was 45.
Steve DeBerg: At 44 years, 279 days old he remains the oldest quarterback to start an NFL game. Brady is still the oldest quarterback credited with an NFL win, this year’s wild-card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles coming when he was 44 years and 166 days old.
Kyle Trask: With Brady set to call it a day and QB2 Blaine Gabbert headed for free agency, the 2021 second-rounder out of Florida – Trask didn’t take a snap as a rookie – is now the only quarterback on the Bucs roster. That will obviously change, but maybe Trask’s opportunity is coming much sooner than he realized.
New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers: Both storied franchises own six Lombardi Trophies – one shy of Brady, who won his first half dozen with the Pats. Now they can get back to chasing their own Stairways to Seven and then get on with the business of surpassing Brady. Still, might take a while, Pittsburgh now with QB issues of its own and New England still awaiting its first post-Brady playoff W. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both trail TB12 by two rings, though the Niners can change that over the next two-plus weeks.
STEELERS QB OPTIONS: Will Pittsburgh find big name to replace Ben Roethlisberger?
Patriots: They’re forever 0-1 against Brady, who helped the Bucs escape 19-17 in his Gillette Stadium return Oct. 3 – apparently the only time he’ll face the franchise with which he built his legacy over 20 years. And even if Bill Belichick and Co. manage to notch more Super Sunday wins as the coach’s clock continues to run, a Brady asterisk is forever attached.
GOAT aspirants: Wanna be LeBron James to Brady’s Michael Jordan? Good luck. Maybe a 17-game regular season (or 18?) and rules geared to promote passing and protect quarterbacks will help future generations take aim at Brady’s numbers. But the only other quarterbacks with even four Super Bowl victories are Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, whose primes occurred before the salary-cap era (Montana’s final season in 1994 overlapped with the cap’s first). The number of starting quarterbacks currently in the NFL with multiple Super Bowl titles: Zero.
Rob Gronkowski: The superstar tight end has indicated he wouldn’t play with any quarterback not named Tom Brady. Gronk told TMZ just this week that, if pressed for a decision as to whether he’d sign up for a 12th NFL season, he’d choose retirement himself. If he walks, too, go ahead and stamp Gronkowski as the GOAT … of tight ends.
Buccaneers: Break ’em up. No Brady? No Gronk? Most likely no Bruce Arians if it’s time to rebuild? Perhaps no Byron Leftwich, the offensive coordinator potentially moving on to a head coaching job elsewhere? Tampa Bay’s laundry list of free agents includes Gronkowski, WR Chris Godwin, C Ryan Jensen, DL Ndamukong Suh, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, RBs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, CB Carlton Davis and S Jordan Whitehead.
NFC South: It seems Brady’s gone, joining departing New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton as an NFL bystander in 2022. And given the state of the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, are we looking at a 7-10 division champion in 2022?
NFL fortysomethings: The only one in the league now is Rams LT Andrew Whitworth, who may well be playing his final game for the Rams on Sunday.
Conference championship games: Even though it feels like the NFL is coming to an end, the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, 49ers and Rams still plan to vie for Super Bowl 56 berths Sunday. Presumably. That said, it seems like those teams – and maybe the 2022 Super Bowl itself – will take a backseat to this seismic turn of events.
NFL fans: An entire generation of them don’t recognize this league without Brady, who’s been its face for the better part of two decades and has just about been synonymous with NFL football in the 21st century. Change can be hard, but, as noted at the top … inevitable.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tom Brady’s retirement decision winners, losers: NFL’s ripple effect
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