Tom Brady's 23rd NFL campaign may be his most mysterious after a bizarre offseason

·5-min read

Tom Brady’s professional life, officially, at least, is expected to go on as we’ve grown accustomed — he’ll suit up for his 23rd NFL season Sunday when his Tampa Bay Bucs visit the Dallas Cowboys.

Tom Brady’s personal life, officially, at least, is mostly a mystery. There were some tangible developments this offseason, including retirement and unretirement, the skipping of spring work, the starring role in a Miami tampering scandal and the 11-day training camp (excused) absence … not to mention reports of marital strife and Costa Rican compounds.

But who really knows?

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As Brady notes, "I'm 45 years old, man. There's a lot of [expletive] going on, so you just have to try and figure out life the best you can.”

Well, yes. Yes he is and yes there certainly is.

How one impacts the other, though, is what no one knows heading into perhaps the final season of one of football’s all-time greats.

Some men confront a mid-life “crisis” by buying a Porsche. Brady has instead become the biggest mystery in the NFL.

It's been a strange offseason for Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. Will he be ready to go when the season opens Sunday against Dallas? (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)
It's been a strange offseason for Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. Will he be ready to go when the season opens Sunday against Dallas? (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

Consider that over the weekend, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles was even asked if he thought Brady was “all-in” on the season, which is newsworthy if only because it’s completely reasonable to wonder even with a player who has been accused of being too “all-in” on football, never not “all-in” enough.

“He’s been all-in since we got him,” Bowles said. “He’s all-in now.”

This is the man who brought avocado ice cream to the national consciousness, after all.

“As you get older, life changes quite a bit,” Brady said on his “Let’s Go” podcast Monday, addressing the situation. “There’s different responsibilities that take form in your life. There’s different perspectives you gain.

“When I was 25, all I did was think about football,” he continued. “That was my life. It was eat, sleep, drink football … over time, other priorities develop [and] … you commit time and energy to those things.”

Last season, Brady led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43), was ranked as the No. 1 player in the league by his peers, per NFL Network, and had the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams beat if not for a final-minute, Matthew Stafford-led touchdown drive.

There is no reason to think much will change this season. Except that everything seems to be changing this season, including Brady’s willingness to talk about the challenges of his work/life balance that may or may not be leading to New York Post stories about his marriage.

“There is a big camera that’s always on you,” Brady said on the podcast. “You’re living your life and you’re living your sports life, too. They’re covering sports, but they are covering your life you, too. And you can’t stop your life even though sports is happening …

“So, even though I’m playing in my 23rd year I have a freshman in high school that is playing football, too,” Brady said. “I have a 12-year-old that is going through his life. I have a 9-year-old that is going through her life. And I have parents. I have a lot of things that are really important off-field pursuits and goals that you are trying to maximize as well.

“So, we all have different things that are going on and I think once football season comes, I really lock in on what I need to do and how I need to focus.”

Take all of that, including who is and isn’t mentioned, for what it’s worth. It’s all reasonable. It’s also a new level of introspection from TB12.

And it’s part of a newsworthy offseason.

The retire/unretire of the offseason was bizarre — “I just felt like I had a little left. And I want to give it a shot,” Brady said of the decision. It’s not that a player was indecisive, it’s that Tom Brady was indecisive. The man is a methodical planner, not an emotional decision-maker.

Then there was the Miami tampering scandal, where it was revealed that during Brady’s last season in New England he was in contact with the Dolphins about joining the team.

The NFL found that Brady engaged in “numerous and detailed conversations” with Miami executive Bruce Beal as part of the Dolphins' “impermissible communications.” That included a reported visit to team owner Stephen Ross’ yacht that made then Dolphins coach Brian Flores uncomfortable, according to court documents.

Brady faced no discipline in the case but, again, was he really chatting up a division rival while still in Foxborough?

Then there is the ascension of Bowles to head coach of the Bucs. There was enough speculation that Brady was somehow involved in the retirement of Bruce Arians that Brady himself addressed whether there was any truth to their relationship deteriorating.

“Zero whatsoever,” Brady said. “[Bruce] and I have a great relationship.”

Meanwhile, he already accepted his next job, a $375 million, 10-year deal with Fox Sports that begins not at the start of the 2023 season, but when he stops playing.

Finally there is all the personal stuff, which can’t be fun no matter the level of truth.

Maybe all the smoke is just smoke. Or maybe not. The skipping of 11 days of training camp — while brushed off as no big deal by both team and quarterback — ran counter to everything Brady has ever been about.

Preparation is his thing. Time with his teammates is his thing. Or it was.

So here we are, entering season 23 with so much discussion on the commitment level of perhaps the most committed football player ever.

It’s at least the wildest Brady offseason since 2016, when he fought the NFL in federal court over the Deflategate scandal only to wind up serving a four-game suspension to start the season.

No one was sure what to expect then, either. There was lots of chatter about focus and priorities, too.

Brady went 14-1 as a starter and won the Super Bowl.