Despite years of success and six Super Bowl championships, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft were unsure after the 2019 season if the 43-year-old Brady could continue to play at a high level. 
This coupled with Belichick’s tendency to move on from players before they decline, and a deteriorating relationship between the coach and quarterback opened the door for Brady’s departure. 
Searching for a warmer climate and the chance to play until his stated goal of 45, Brady signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and promptly won his seventh championship. 
- After decades of success, Belichick’s cynical and cut-throat coaching style finally began to wear on Brady.
- Both Belichick and owner Robert Kraft questioned if Brady could continue playing into his mid-40s as he planned
- Looking for warmer weather and a team that would give him the chance to play as long as he wanted, Brady departed New England after the 2019/2020 season.
Signs of Unrest
Even in 2017, at the age of 40, Brady showed no signs of slowing down. He was the league MVP, leading the Patriots to a 13-3 regular season record while tossing 32 touchdowns against just 8 interceptions. 
But nine days before the Patriots’ AFC Divisional matchup with the Tennessee Titans, ESPN reporter Seth Wickersham published an article that indicated that things may not be as rosy in New England as one would expect for a team poised to contend for yet another Super Bowl. 
Wickersham’s piece highlighted the growing strife between Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft. Sources also claimed Belichick’s growing irritation with Brady’s personal trainer Alex Guerrero, who Brady credited with helping him stay in fantastic shape into his 40s. 
After years of collaboration and five Super Bowl titles, it seemed Brady and Belichick had come to loggerheads, with the cynical coach beginning to alienate his quarterback. 
No one on the Patriots confirmed the incidents in the article, and Brady and Belichick prepared for the playoffs like always did.
If they weren’t getting along, it didn’t show on the field. New England dispatched the Titans and Jaguars before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, 41-33. But there was no redacting the article, and even though Brady remained under contract, fans and analysts were anxious to see what the most successful coach and quarterback in NFL history would do next.
But despite the Super Bowl loss and Wickersham article, the fracturing of the Patriots’ dynasty was far from imminent. Instead, Brady remained with the Patriots for the next two seasons. Instead of a drama-filled nightmare, the Patriots returned to the Super Bowl the following season to take on the Los Angeles Rams and their high-powered offense. The Patriots’ defense dominated the game, handing Brady and Belichick their sixth championship. 
The following year was Brady’s last under contract. 
As the season moved along, more and more rumors swirled that, while it may be Brady’s last in New England, he had no interest in retiring. 
His Patriots career ended in the wild-card round against the Tennessee Titans. Trailing by one with just a few seconds left, Brady’s final pass in a Patriots uniform was far from a storybook ending. 
While not outwardly hostile, the Brady/Belichick relationship was not improving. Complicating matters more was owner Robert Kraft’s affinity for Brady and his desire to keep the star quarterback in New England. 
But Belichick was famous for moving on from players before their decline. Brady had a solid, but not spectacular season in 2019, and it was a legitimate question of how much longer he could continue to play at a high level.
Brady wanted to play until he was 45, and no longer wanted to work with the cutthroat mentality that Belichick had implemented since 2001. It was becoming a “me or him” choice for Robert Kraft, and while the owner wanted to keep Brady, even he was skeptical that he could continue to play to age 45. Sick of being underestimated and wanting to be, in his words, “appreciated,” Brady sketched out what he desired for his next team and contract. 
- A good, but not necessarily great team
- Warmer weather
- Either closer to his parents on the west coast, or near his son who lived in New York
- A coach that valued collaboration
- A two year-$50 million contract 
We can quibble with how close Tampa Bay is to New York, but there’s no denying that it hit many of the other checkmarks Brady was looking for. While neither has ever come out and admitted it, it sure seemed like both Belichick and Brady were anxious to prove that they could succeed without each other.
Brady certainly has, winning a Super Bowl in his first year with the Buccaneers, and throwing for a combined 108 touchdowns in his three years in Tampa Bay. 
Even after a mediocre regular season, the Bucs are once again in the playoffs, and with no juggernaut team in the NFC, could once again be poised for a deep playoff run.
Could Brady return for another season? Rumors are already swirling about Brady potentially fulfilling another one of the items on his list, this time moving west to play for the Las Vegas Raiders who just moved on from their own quarterback, Derek Carr. 
Perhaps Brady will finally be ready to call it a career, but after more than two decades of success, it’s hard to imagine the NFL without him.
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