Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady called the 2021 season "incredibly rewarding personally and professionally" amid rumors he's set to consider retirement.
Brady discussed the campaign, which came to a close Sunday with the Bucs' playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in an Instagram post Tuesday:
"I understand that at this stage in my career, there is going to be interest in my future whenever a season ends, but this week, all that is on my mind is the gratitude I have for this team and the fans that have supported us all year long. This year has been incredibly rewarding personally and professionally and I am appreciative of everyone who worked their ass off to help our team achieve so much.
"I always want to win, I think that's pretty apparent by now, but that doesn't mean I equate losing to failure, especially when you go out fighting the way we did. There's so much to appreciate in a season like this when you're surrounded by a team that believes in each other, and plays for the people standing on either side of them. I'll spare you the Man in the Arena quote, but that feeling is something that I promise I'll never take for granted. To everyone that was a part of it this year, thank you. I love you all!"
Brady put together another MVP-level regular season by leading the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43) while not missing any contests during the league's first 17-game campaign at the age of 44.
In turn, there was very little talk about the longtime New England Patriots superstar walking away at season's end until the speculation started to pick up steam over the past few weeks.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Monday the seven-time Super Bowl champion hasn't made a final decision, but noted the retirement talk is "as real as it's been":
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
From <a href="https://twitter.com/gmfb?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@gmfb</a>: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bucs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bucs</a> QB Tom Brady may not retire. But this is as real as it's been. <a href="https://t.co/5fJV25Hd0q">pic.twitter.com/5fJV25Hd0q</a>
Brady also added some fuel to the fire Monday when he told Jim Gray on the Let's Go! podcast (via ESPN's Jenna Laine) that while football remains "extremely important," his family would play a key role in his decision about whether to return for a 23rd season:
"I'm gonna spend some time with them and give them what they need, 'cause they've really been giving me what I need the last six months to do what I love to do. I said this a few years ago, it's what relationships are all about. It's not always what I want. It's what we want as a family. And I'm gonna spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what's next."
The University of Michigan product has typically been pretty clear about his intention to keep playing, so it's different for him to head into the offseason with his future still an open question.
It would still qualify as a surprise if Brady has walked off a football field for the final time as an active player simply because he played at such a high level in 2021. He was still one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and is still capable of competing for more Super Bowl titles.
He's also under contract with Tampa Bay for one more year at $25.4 million in baseline earnings and the potential to earn millions more in incentives, per Spotrac.
Alas, it sounds like if Brady's family is ready for him to move on to the next chapter of his life, he's willing to take that path.
If that's what happens in the coming weeks or months, there will be a spot in the Hall of Fame waiting for him in five years' time.