Every year at this time, Tom Brady fields questions about retirement. Playing deep into his 40s, it's to be expected.
Is it a little different this time?
According to a source close to Brady, the public chatter about Brady's potential retirement at age 44 is, at least, an issue to be concerned about and paid attention to. And no one has swatted it down.
It is possible.
Public speculation about Brady's future kicked into high gear this past Wednesday, with old friend and teammate Rob Ninkovich opining on ESPN's "Get Up" that he wouldn't be surprised if Brady retired.
NFL Network's Willie McGinest -- another former Patriots teammate -- asked Brady during a one-on-one interview a week ago if the quarterback will have to set a new goal now that he's approaching his target of playing until the age of 45. Brady, who has one year left on his deal at $25.4 million, was noncommittal.
"I felt like then that was a great goal to set and I still have that goal of wanting to get to 45," Brady said. "We'll see how it goes. I think I'm pretty much in [uncharted] territory."
Often by this point in the season, Brady has said definitively that he'll be back. That has not yet happened. Another source close to him said simply, Brady hasn't considered his future because he's only thinking about how to win Sunday vs. the Rams in the Divisional Round.
A person close to Brady explained the mentality: At the end of the year, he'll put the emotions aside, let them pass, then make a decision about whether he wants to return. One cannot anticipate what it will be, the source said.
Everyone else has been asked about it.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told The Tampa Bay Times that he would be "shocked" if Brady didn't play next season based on his enthusiasm during practice. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said simply at his weekly news conference, "Tom is playing at a high level. I'll leave it at that."
To be sure, there has been no drop-off in his play. Brady led the NFL in touchdown passes (43) and passing yards (5,316) in 2021. Considering the maniacal way he takes care of his body, there's no reason to believe a drop-off is coming anytime soon.
However, given his age and where he is in life -- plus having already won a Super Bowl with another team besides the Patriots -- retirement is something he'll consider.