What’s next for Tom Brady, Buccaneers? Playoff loss to Rams may not signal end to Super run, retirement

Has Tom Brady played his last game for the Buccaneers? With retirement rumors swirling around the 44-year-old quarterback ahead of the 30-27 NFC divisional playoff loss to Los Angeles, that’s one of many big questions to be answered in Tampa Bay in 2022. .

The No. 2 seed and host Bucs fell short in an epic comeback attempt led by Brady, which also meant they fell two wins away from repeating as Super Bowl champions. That pushes the Bucs into a rough offseason that carries a wide range of results. They could remain elite contenders for the championship or, worst case scenario, go into rebuild mode.

First, Brady has to decide if he wants to return for his 45-year-old season with his second team. He’s on a $25.4 million contract through 2022. The Bucs still have a lot of solid, promising pieces, offensively and defensively, that might make you believe he can make one more run in an eighth ring. On the other hand, he might be satisfied with having won a ring away from the Patriots and Bill Belichick to mark his career as the unquestioned GOAT QB.

Brady still played at a high level, but it cost him a year to stay in shape and continue to fight Father Time. He could go either way and want a lot more of the grind in search of a little more glory. What Brady decides will influence his favorite tight end, Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski isn’t signed before his 33-year-old season and may, like after winning Super Bowl 53 against the Rams, choose to retire, this time for real. Without Brady, the Bucs would suddenly need to find a QB solution, likely another veteran jumper given they’re still a late first-round draft pick.

If Brady returns, there are also concerns. Below is the list of key pending unrestricted free agents, along with Gronkowski, several of them also in years:

  • RB Leonard Fournette
  • RB Ronald Jones
  • RB Giovani Bernard
  • WR Chris Godwin
  • I DO Howard
  • Ryan Jensen
  • DT Ndamukong Suh
  • DE William Gholston
  • OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
  • C.B. Carlton Davis
  • Jordan Whitehead

The Buccaneers, according to OverTheCap.com They’re looking for less than $20 million in salary-cap space. Even with some creative contract work, they won’t be able to keep their starting staff intact. Brady must weigh playing on a team that is aging less in some areas versus getting even younger by playing right tackle Tristan Wirfs, nose tackle Vita Vea, inside linebacker Devin White, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and other young players.

Another big plus for Brady to stay on is the fact that the Panthers and Falcons remain weak in the NFC South and the post-Drew Brees Saints could be facing a QB and/or coaching transition. With him, the Bucs will be in a favorable position to rack up big wins as a division powerhouse, even with some player losses.

Looking at the big picture in the NFC, Aaron Rodgers isn’t sure about returning to the Packers and the Rams are an all-in playoff team with an imminent fade. The 49ers are ready to bring in a new QB, the Cardinals have their share of free agents and age issues. The Cowboys, they’re alright, the Cowboys. The Bucs with Brady would have shot as well as any of those teams to get to the Super Bowl next year.

Had the Buccaneers seen their 27-3 second-half deficit turn into a total rout of the Rams, there might have been a lot less confidence that the team still had another Super Bowl run left. But in the end, the Bucs, despite key injuries, led by Wirfs and Godwin, held on against a Rams-laden team with a worthy Brady QB counterpart in Matthew Stafford.

It’s hard to keep a championship game team together in the modern NFL, unless a team does it with a top quarterback on his rookie deal. Parity and roster rotation come with the territory. Brady, in addition to defying age, has been the centerpiece in bucking that trend, first with great help from Bill Belichick in New England and second by picking the ideal complementary team in Tampa.

There’s no doubt that Brady has at least one more great season left and the Bucs’ championship window isn’t suddenly closing, given that they’ve gone from NFC wild card to mighty No. 2 seed. But it is more up to him whether he will stay open wide.