Tom Brady’s presser in the aftermath of the Patriots loss to the Titans last week was laced with uncertainty. In part, his inability to answer queries on his future with any modicum of certainty stemmed from an unexpected ouster from the playoffs prior to the divisional round — a first in a whole decade. In larger measure, it was a natural offshoot of his status as a would-be free agent at 42, and for the first time in his career. And given the deflating end to a season that began with promise and progressed with expectations of a successful Super Bowl defense, he understandably needed to process his situation before moving on.
All the same, it bears noting that Brady used the words “pretty unlikely” and “hopefully unlikely” in assessing the possibility of retirement. Clearly, he planned to keep on playing, a validation of his belief that the Patriots’ failure in recent memory didn’t reflect his frailties, but, rather, of those around him. And as if to ensure that all and sundry got the message, he conveyed his desire to suit up anew in an Instagram post the other day. “In both life and football, failure is inevitable. You don’t always win. You can, however, learn from that failure, pick yourself up with great enthusiasm, and place yourself in the arena again. And that’s right where you will find me. Because I know I still have more to prove.”
Brady’s right, albeit not in the way he thinks. Even as the Patriots did have an offensive line that lacked the depth to make up for the loss of do-it-all Rob Gronkowski in the offseason, his discernible drop in productivity as the campaign wore on did them no favors. Advanced statistics don’t lie. If they kept winning, it was because of their defense and in spite of their struggles to put points on the board — struggles that he exacerbated instead of minimized. It’s certainly why head coach Bill Belichick refused to categorically endorse his return in a post-mortem that was telling in terms of both the little put on record and the lot left unsaid.
Belichick would go only so far as to acknowledge that Brady “is an iconic figure in this organization.” It was a sentiment shared by franchise owner Robert Kraft, who disclosed that “my hope and prayer is, number one, he plays for the Patriots. Or, number two, he retires.” Well, number two is out. And as for number one, the fact that they didn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension last August makes it an iffy proposition at best. At this point, anything is possible and everything is on the table. “I’ll explore those opportunities whenever they are,” he told Peter King of NBC Sports. “If the Patriots, great. If not, I don’t know.”
Which, in a nutshell, means the answers will have to wait. They won’t be long in coming, but the safe bet has Brady prefacing them with assurances of better support around him, whether with the Patriots or elsewhere. Yes, it’s a commitment to lead. And, yes, it’s a tacit nod to his declining form.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.