On Feb. 1, Tom Brady announced that he was stepping away from football. The Buccaneers moved ahead with Bruce Arians as head coach and assessed their options at quarterback.
By March 30, Brady was back with the Bucs, preparing to play his 23rd NFL season at age 45. And his head coach was Todd Bowles after Arians retired and took a consulting job with the team.
How did this drastic turn of events take place in just two months? This wasn’t a Brett Favre situation, with Brady walking away for several months before getting the itch again during training camp. Brady was “retired” for all of 40 days, and came back in time for the Buccaneers to be active in free agency.
Instead, Brady’s change of heart was the result of a fascinating fall of dominos involving the Miami Dolphins, Sean Payton, Brian Flores’s lawsuit, former Patriots offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, and a Manchester United soccer match.
If Brady had his way, he would have been running — and potentially quarterbacking — one of the Patriots’ division rivals. Instead, a series of unforeseen events led him back to Tampa.
No one from Brady’s camp has acknowledged this timeline of events. But it’s fairly easy to connect the dots. A league source close to one of the parties provided knowledge of the inner dynamics of the situation. Reporting from Ohrnberger, now a San Diego radio host, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio filled in some of the gaps.
Here’s how it all unfolded:
▪ Brady decided to walk away from the Buccaneers for two reasons. One, per Ohrnberger, was his relationship with Arians. Ohrnberger is former teammates and close friends with a member of the Tampa Bay coaching staff, A.Q. Shipley.
“The retirement announcement wasn’t because of the trouble seeing eye to eye on the offensive game planning, but the relationship was souring,” Ohrnberger wrote on Twitter. “Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Brady would work on the week’s game plan. Arians would later come in and take the red pen to work they’d done. The QB and OC felt undermined, there was tension.”
The other, and more significant, reason was that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross presented Brady with a golden opportunity to get into the business of the NFL. Per the league source, Brady was going to be given a position high in the Miami front office, similar to Derek Jeter’s former position with the Miami Marlins. Florio reported Thursday that the Dolphins were going to introduce Brady as a minority owner the week before the Super Bowl.
Brady has two big connections to the Dolphins. One is the University of Michigan; Brady is its star alumnus, and Ross has his name on its business school. The other is Dolphins minority owner Bruce Beal, who is Brady’s friend and has joined Brady on at least one trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Ross badly wanted Brady — in part to bring sizzle to the Dolphins, in part to stick it to the Patriots. For Brady, it was an opportunity to get into the business side of the NFL, with the goal of one day fronting his own ownership group.
▪ This doesn’t mean Brady was done playing football. After all, he just finished second in MVP voting and led the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes.
The Dolphins’ offer was just Brady’s way of getting out of Tampa. He was under contract with the Buccaneers as a player, but they couldn’t stop him from becoming an executive. Once Brady was in Miami, and once the Buccaneers had found a replacement at quarterback, the Dolphins could have approached the Bucs about trade compensation to let Brady come out of retirement and play quarterback.
“I thought he was possibly going to take a year off, or something like that, and maybe come back after that,” Rob Gronkowski said Wednesday night on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
▪ Payton, the former Saints coach who resigned Jan. 25, also was going to be involved, as first reported by Florio Feb. 28. Brady and Payton have had a relationship over 20 years in the NFL, and they share an agent in Don Yee. Brady was close to joining the Saints in 2020 before Drew Brees decided to return for another year.
Per the league source, if Brady was going to run the Dolphins, he was going to do it only with a veteran coach that he trusted, such as Payton. Payton acknowledged when he resigned from the Saints that he intended to coach again soon.
▪ On the morning of Feb. 1, Brady announced his retirement — except that he never actually used that word. He said he was “not going to make that competitive commitment anymore.” His choice of words was deliberate.
Just hours later, on Feb. 1, Flores filed his lawsuit against the Dolphins and the NFL alleging racial discrimination, as well as making explosive allegations against Ross of trying to lose games intentionally and of tampering with a certain star quarterback.
The lawsuit messed up everything, per the source. The plan to hire a white coach and a white team president without going through the Rooney Rule probably wouldn’t fly once the Dolphins were sued for racial discrimination.
Flores’s accusations of tanking and tampering put the issue of cellphones and discovery at play for Ross and Brady. The lawsuit simply brought too much heat to the situation, and Ross and Brady had to call off the arrangement.
▪ With his plans with the Dolphins blown up, Brady was left with two choices: stay retired without knowing what he was going to do with his life or return to football.
The decision was obvious. But Brady had to clear up some issues in Tampa first.
On March 12, he traveled to the United Kingdom to take in a Manchester United soccer match. Man U is owned by the Glazer family, which also owns the Buccaneers. On March 13, Brady announced that he was coming back to the Buccaneers. His announcement came three days before the start of free agency, allowing the Bucs to use Brady as a recruiting tool.
The final chapter was written March 30, when the Buccaneers announced that Arians was stepping down as head coach and giving way to Bowles, who was the team’s defensive coordinator. Every other Bucs coach remained in place, including Leftwich, who essentially will be the head coach on the offensive side of the ball.
It’s not certain what exactly Brady and the Glazers spoke about at the soccer match. But it doesn’t take a genius to put 2 + 2 together.
▪ Actually, there is still one last piece of unresolved business: Brady’s contract. He is on the books for $10.4 million, plus $4.5 million in incentives. The Buccaneers surely will give him a raise. But if there are no extra years tacked on, then the Brady-to-Miami (or San Francisco) rumors will heat up again in 2023. If Brady gets extra years, then we can safely assume that the Glazer family doesn’t want him to play in any other uniform.
Either way, Brady will be back with the Bucs in 2022, gunning for an eighth Super Bowl ring and becoming the first QB in NFL history to start a game at age 45.
It wasn’t his original plan, but it’s a nice fallback. Buccaneers fans can thank Flores’s lawsuit and a soccer match across the pond for making it all happen.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.