In the opening minutes of Tuesday’s 30-minute conference call with Tom Brady, you could sense something was very different.
There was a tone of uncertainty in the soon-to-be 43-year-old’s voice.
It wasn’t that he was disappointed or disgruntled. He was just unsure. It was a tone we really haven’t ever heard from Brady.
Who could blame him? For the first time since he was a 22-year-old out of the University of Michigan, he’ll have a different employer. All of us can imagine how uncertain we would feel about leaving a comfortable work environment after 21 years.
“I’m not going to make predictions about how the next few months are going to go and I don’t really know what’s going to happen and what’s predicted with our access to the team facilities and so forth,” Brady said. “I’m going to do the best I can to be in conversation with guys and try to get together and find ways to meet up in different places and get to work in that sense. Technology is an amazing thing and we’re going to use the technology as best we can to try to get to know each other and for me, they’re ahead of me on what they need to know in terms of the offense. So I’ve really got to get up to speed with the things they already know and their terminology. It’s a lot of time and energy, but that’s what I love to do. The only way to start it is to start doing it, so that’s what I’ve got to do.”
It was Brady’s first act with a new team. And it just seemed so surreal. In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty of when things might get back to normal in the rest of the world, Brady was not immune to the doubt about the future.
“There are logistical things that are happening, not just for me – everyone is going through life in a different way right now,” Brady said. “There is still a lot of change happening and you’ve just got to try and manage it as best as possible. Everyone seems to be in different locations, but I think the important part is that everyone is trying to make it work. Everyone is trying to figure out how to adjust and how to adapt to the new reality that we’re all facing. You’ve seen a lot of these other leagues that are being canceled [or] delayed. We as football players, there are aspects of our offseason that have changed and I’m sure will change to a degree.
“But, that doesn’t stop me from figuring out what I’ve got to do in my professional life to try to still learn the things I need to learn and train the way I need to train. As far as I know, there is nothing that delays the start of our season to this point and I’ve got to do everything I can to be prepared as I would in an offseason where we weren’t dealing with what we’re dealing with. Again, I’m not making any predictions about that. I’m just going to take it day-by-day with how I’m doing, and I’m going to try and learn things I need to learn. One day at a time is definitely not a cliché in the way that I’m trying to live my life right now. It’s just been a new reality for all of us.”
Brady wasn’t about to go down a publicly vindictive path Tuesday. He’ll leave that to the pundits.
“I’m not responsible for how other people will say certain things,” Brady said. “I think Mr. Kraft has been a great influence in my life and I’m so grateful for two decades [with New England]. It’s been an amazing thing for my family and I’m sure when I’m done playing I’ll look back and have a chance to reevaluate my entire career, but at the same time I’m excited for this opportunity that I have. I can only speak about how I feel. I wrote about that in my social media the other day. This was getting to be a free agent and having the opportunity to join the Bucs is something that I was really excited about and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
Brady denied being disappointed at the lack of a competing offer from the Patriots once free agency opened.
“I have a great deal of respect for – there’s nobody who’s a bigger fan of the New England Patriots than me,” Brady insisted. “I have nothing but total respect and love. I’m so grateful to Mr. Kraft and the organization and Coach [Bill] Belichick and all the coaches and obviously all my teammates. It’s been a lot of days responding to a lot of incredible text messages from my teammates, from former teammates, from a lot of great people I got to meet over the years.
“I have so many great relationships that will be maintained and I think that’s the greatest gift that football has brought me is the relationships that I’ve had with so many of the people I’ve worked with. It’ll certainly be different, but at the same time that’s the way life can be at times. What won’t be different is my approach to the game, my approach to what my roles and responsibilities are and I’m going go out and do the best I can every day and do my best to put this team in a position to win.”
What would’ve kept Brady in New England?
“I don’t want to talk about the past because that’s not relevant to what’s important in my future and what’s going on this offseason for me,” Brady said. “I had nothing but two decades of incredible experience and learning from some the best players, the best coaches and the ownership of the team. I think for all of us, things in life can change and you’ve got to be able to adapt and evolve and with each of those changes come different opportunities to learn and grow, and that’s where I’m at. Any time you leave somewhere it’s emotional and the transition has been very emotional with a lot of guys that I’ve talked to that I’ve shared the field with because the relationships are what matter most to me and I’m going to be friends with my teammates, my former teammates and coaches for the rest of my life.
“That’s not going to leave just because I’m wearing a different jersey, but at the same time for me, the new jersey I’m wearing, I’m prepared to give them every bit of commitment I’ve had my entire career to be the best I could be to give this team be the best it could be. I did say there’s not one person that makes a team. It’s every single person doing their job every day that’s committed and determined to be the best. I’m a very disciplined quarterback and I try to follow through on the things I’m committed to and I try to work every day to be the best I can be. That’s what I’m going to try to push my teammates to do and I’m just excited to get started.”
Once Brady gets comfortable, he’s going to have the weapons he desperately wanted his final few years in New England. Yes, he had Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski during the final Super Bowl run in 2018. But in Tampa, he’s going to have receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. And he’s going to have a creative offensive guru in head coach Bruce Arians.
“Well, I think we do our due diligence every year after a season to see how we can better our football team and better our organization,” Arians said. “When we looked at everybody that might be available at the quarterback position, obviously really never dreaming that Tom would be available, but if he was, he was going to be our number one choice. Mainly because he can do everything that we want to do in our offense, but more than that it’s his leadership ability that we need in our locker room to get where we want to go. Once that became a reality it was full bore ahead, let’s see what we’ve got to do and see if we can get this done.”
When exactly did Brady decide to move on from Foxboro?
“It was really the night that I spoke with Mr. Kraft and asked if I could come over and see him,” Brady said. “We spoke and had a great conversation and I just wanted to express what he’s meant to me in my life. We spoke with Coach Belichick at the same time – we were in different locations, so we talked to him and it was a great conversation. I got a chance to talk to Jonathan Kraft as well.
“All three of those guys have been involved with so many important decisions in my life – career-related, personal-related – and I leave there with great admiration for the people in that organization. It’s a world-class, first-class organization in every way and I wanted to leave it that way, too.”
Brady and Kraft have long been neighbors in the Boston area. Bill Belichick was the third party in the conversation. That conversation marked the end. Appropriate that Brady and Kraft were together and Belichick, presumably, was on the other end of a call.
There were those who thought Brady would never go down the path of Joe Namath, Brett Favre and his childhood idol Joe Montana and finish playing in a different uniform, and that Robert Kraft would never let it happen.
“I was at Joe’s last game at Candlestick Park,” Brady related. “I actually went up there and saw it with my friend. I’ll never forget that. He was an incredible player. He and Steve Young were my quarterback idols growing up. I just think life, it continues to change for all of us. Having the opportunity for me to continue to play football and lead a team is something that I love doing. I’ve loved playing this sport since I was a kid, since I was throwing footballs in the parking lot at Candlestick. I still love doing that today. I train hard. I try to keep my body as physically fit as possible.
“Mentally, I try to stay sharp, although it is going to be a different challenge this year in learning. I’m going to do everything I can to do the best I possibly can. I’m just excited to embrace this opportunity and see it for what it is, which is [that] a lot of guys that have been a part of this team, they want to be the best they can be and they want to achieve the highest goal. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of that. There’s no way to do it – you can’t talk your way into it. It’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of commitment and it’s a lot of people that are just aligned trying to do the right thing. Again, I don’t know when our first OTA will be, but I’m sure there will be a lot of guys [there] that I am excited to meet. I’m going to try to get the best out of myself and the best out of them. It’s all going to be dependent on the guys in the building and in the facility to make it happen.”
There were no slings and arrows Tuesday, just well wishes for a franchise he leaves as the greatest player in its history.
“I know the Patriots have a great team, they always do – they have great players, great leadership, great coaches – and I certainly wish them the best. But for me, I’ve got to transition and focus on the opportunity that I have to make the current situation I’m in as best as I can. They hired me to do a job here and I’m going to go in there and do it like you’ve always seen me do for a long time, like the fans have always seen me do, like opposing coaches, my teammates have seen me do. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got like I’ve done every day of my life for as long as I’ve been playing this sport.”
Just in a much different place.