For the first time there is uncertainty in Tom Brady's future

Dan WetzelColumnist

Tom Brady hasn’t necessarily decided he will retire at the end of this season, he just wants to feel free to decide to retire at the end of the season.

That’s according to one source close to him, although it is possible Brady already knows. What is clear is that in ways more obvious than ever, Brady is at least preparing, and acknowledging, the end will come.

“That is the great part for me, I don’t know,” Brady told WEEI in Boston on Wednesday.

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At least in parts of Team Brady, that resonated as a true answer. He doesn’t know. In the past he did … he was coming back. Always. Now? Maybe. Or maybe not.

At 42 years old and in his 20th NFL season, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet with his home in Boston on the market and his contract with New England expiring at season’s end, this isn’t Brady defiantly stating that he’ll play until 45 or parroting Bill Belichick about focusing solely on Cleveland this coming Sunday.

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The fact that there is uncertainty even while sitting at 7-0 and in seemingly perfect health might cause some alarm among Patriots fans (and hope for the rest of the league). Does getting out seem even more palpable at season’s end, when he’s naturally banged up and perhaps defeated (yes, it happens).

This also might be nothing more than Brady’s meticulous ways bubbling up as he confronts the rest of his life.

“He’s a planner,” one source said.

Tom Brady has the Patriots off to a 7-0 start for the third time in his career, and yet for the first time he's non-committal about his future. (Getty Images)
Tom Brady has the Patriots off to a 7-0 start for the third time in his career, and yet for the first time he's non-committal about his future. (Getty Images)

And he’s a planner who clearly feels a freedom in being able to consider his plans because he won’t be contractually obligated to anyone or anything at this point.

“I think that has been a unique situation that I have been in because I think when you commit to a team for a certain amount of years, you kind of feel like [there’s] the responsibility to always fulfill the contract,” Brady said.

Brady is, at this point, the definition of playing for the love of the game, the thrill of the challenge and the joy of the journey. This isn’t about money. He’s making plenty of it, of course, and he has plenty more. So does his wife, Gisele Bündchen. And both can make plenty more for the rest of their lives.

Being Tom Brady, retired Super Bowl champion, is going to be a pretty sweet life, too.

And this isn’t about the chase of some elusive goal. He has already won more Super Bowls than any other player and two more than any starting quarterback. He has started in a remarkable 15.1 percent of all the Super Bowls ever staged, despite sitting out the first 35 of them.

When the motivation changes, even just a little bit, then he probably calls it quits. He is at least acknowledging that the decision is on the table now. Again, none of this should be surprising, except Brady has felt so timeless.

“For me, it’s been good because I am just taking it day-by-day and I am enjoying what I have,” Brady said. “I don’t know what the future holds and the great part is for me, football at this point is all borrowed time. I never expected to play 20 years and I am playing on a great team and it’s just been an incredible 20 years of my life …

“One day I will wake up and I will feel like, ‘OK, that will be enough,’ ” Brady continued. “When that day comes, that day comes. I don’t know if it will be after this year. I don’t know if it will be five years from now. I don’t have to determine those things right now, either. That is kind of a good part of where I am at. Just take advantage of the opportunities that I have this year and do the very best I can do and then those decisions come at probably more appropriate times.”

Brady has been good this season. Certainly as good as anyone his age has played, especially considering he’s lacking consistency among the receiving corps. His completion percentage of 65.9 is above his career average of 64.1. He’s on pace for 36.6 touchdowns, above his career average of 30.4 (discounting 2000 and 2008 when he didn’t play). Ditto for yards passing (4,553 over 4,143). He has even rushed for three TDs.

Stats have rarely been Brady’s thing, of course. He has put up numbers, but his value is in leadership. During the week, or even across the year, he serves as a bookend to Belichick’s proven system. In games, there is no one capable of making teammates believe even improbable comebacks are possible. And strategically, he may be the best to ever play at figuring out defenses on the fly.

He isn’t Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson. He is Tom Brady, though, and in New England there is no one else you want.

And so Brady sits at 7-0 for the third time in his career, riding a 12-game win streak and three consecutive Super Bowl seasons (two of them victorious) and lives in the present.

Nothing promised. Nothing determined.

In a football career where he’s done it all, this may be a first.

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