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Questions mount about whether Tom Brady is retiring from the NFL

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoffs on Sunday.
Kevin C. Cox
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Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoffs on Sunday.

Updated January 29, 2022 at 5:42 PM ET

Questions mounted Saturday about whether Tom Brady — often regarded as the greatest professional football player of all time — had finally retired from the NFL, bringing an end to a remarkable 22-year career that redefined what a quarterback could achieve.

The news was first reported by ESPN, citing anonymous sources, followed by a pair of tweets by the NFL apparently confirming the news.

But in statements to media, Brady's agent, Donald Yee, would not confirm — or deny — the report.

"Without getting into the accuracy or inaccuracy of what's being reported, Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy," Yee wrote. "He knows the realities of the football business and planning calendar as well as anybody, so that should be soon."

As the afternoon unfolded, the confusion mounted. Brady's company, TB12 Sports, posted a congratulatory tweet, then deleted it. Other reports said the Buccaneers leadership had not been informed of any decision yet.

The Associated Press reported that Brady had told the Bucs he hadn't made up his mind. And KRON4 News, a local news station in the Bay Area, where Brady's parents live, reported that Brady's father had denied reports of his son's retirement.

Brady himself has not given a public statement since the initial ESPN report.

Brady's remarkable career

Brady's retirement is so hotly watched because his career has been so superlative. His departure would be the end of an era for professional football.

In 22 seasons with the New England Patriots and later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady reached the Super Bowl a mind-boggling 10 times, winning seven. (Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, the quarterbacks with the next most Super Bowl wins, have only — only! — four.)

He began his career inauspiciously, falling to Patriots in the 6th round of the draft, after 198 players had already been taken. As a 22-year-old, he seemed like nothing special — a nice career at Michigan, perhaps a bit unathletic, if the now-famous photo taken of him at the NFL Combine was any indication.

But with the Patriots, he connected with coach Bill Belichick, and the NFL was never the same.

The league's unofficial slogan is "any given Sunday" — any team always has a shot to beat any other. In other words, in the NFL, there's no such thing as a sure thing.

But Brady defied that calculus, somehow always the sure bet.

With Brady under center, the Patriots were as close as anything to a lock for the playoffs, beginning with his first year as a starter. (With Brady as their starting quarterback, the Pats missed the playoffs only in his second year as a starter and the year he tore his ACL.) From 2011 to 2018, he led the Patriots to eight straight conference championship games. They won the Super Bowl six times.

After a disappointing final season in New England, Brady announced in March 2020 that he would not re-sign with the team, ending his 20-year run. Three days later, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In two seasons with Tampa Bay, he promptly won yet another Super Bowl then led the Bucs to the playoffs yet again.

In his last game — a playoff bout last week against the Los Angeles Rams — Brady's Bucs found themselves down 27-3 after the Rams burst out of the gates.

As the Bucs chipped away at the lead, the Brady magic seemed alive and well — the man was making yet another unthinkable comeback happen yet again. With Brady under center, the Bucs marched back, tying the game at 27-27 with just 42 seconds to play.

But the Rams broke the spell. Two long passes later, Los Angeles kicked a field goal to win as time expired, putting an end to the Bucs' playoff hopes — and Brady's career.

If Brady, now 44 years old, is in fact retiring — he will do as one of the most decorated players of all time. Of his dizzying number of career records, many are nigh untouchable. No quarterback has ever started so many games, won so many games, passed for so many yards or touchdowns. He has started more playoff games, and won more, than any other quarterback. He scored more touchdowns in his 40s than he did in his 20s.

The NFL is not short on phenomenal young quarterbacks, including the 26-year-old Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and 25-year-old Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

But they have many years to go before they are in position to break Brady's records.

ESPN reports that his family and his health were among the reasons for his retirement. Brady has three children, including two with his wife Gisele Bündchen.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 30, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that the Buccaneers at one point trailed the Rams 28-3 during their NFC Divisional Playoff game. The Bucs trailed by a score of 27-3 before losing in overtime 30-27.
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.