Tom Brady Questions Begin As Bucs QB Contemplates His Future After Being Eliminated By Cowboys In Wild-Card Loss

Is this it? Is this how Tom Brady goes out?

The NFL greatest quarterback of all time and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night in a 31-14 decision that was more blowout than the final score suggests.

And because Brady is unsigned for the 2023 season, and 45 years old, and has said he has a future to ponder, we simply don't know if this was Tom Brady's final game at quarterback.

Brady did say a sort of farewell to reporters after the game.

"Hopefully, um, you know, I love this organization," Brady said. "It's a great place to be and thank you to everyone who welcomed me. All you regulars. And just grateful for the respect and hope I gave the same thing back to you guys, so thank you very much."

That first part in which Brady speaks in the present tense about his love for the Buccaneers and shares how well he thinks of the club might seem like a clue as to his intentions. But everyone who has spoken with Brady in recent weeks echoes the same narrative.

And that is Brady has not made up his mind what comes next.

Tom Brady Offers No Clues About Future

He didn't show great emotion about the end of the season, which one might expect would peek through if he already knew he was done playing.

"It just feels like the end of the season," Brady said when asked of his emotions.

Brady is going to undergo a process designed to lead him to the next step.

Coach Todd Bowles said he would meet with Brady to discuss returning.

"I'm going to sit down and have a conversation," Bowles said. "We'll talk about it at that time. It's not anything publicly that needs to be said at this time."

Not a lot of clarity. And in a season when the entire Bucs team that finished 8-10 lacked moments of clarity, Brady added more to the fog what asked specifically about his upcoming decision-making process.

"I'm going to go home and get a good night sleep," Brady said. "Do that as good as I can tonight. This has been a lot of focus on this game so, yeah. One day at a time. Truly."

And that's where he left it. So we cannot predict what happens next. Maybe he returns for his 24th year. Or maybe not.

And if not, again, is this how he goes out?

Brady's Choices For The Future Includes Return To Bucs

So does Tom Brady refuse to let that be his final chapter and does he return to Tampa Bay next season?

That's going to require the team refurbish an offensive line that betrayed Brady this year. Left tackle Donovan Smith led the NFL with eight holding penalties and when he wasn't holding, he was often chasing ends who blew past him.

The running game was non-existent. That's not an exaggeration. The Buccaneers averaged only 76.9 rushing yards per game this season and that was the league's worst average in the regular season.

We saw more of that Monday night with Leonard Fournette, a $7 million a year back, averaging all of 2.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys.

With an anemic running game and inconsistent offensive line, the Bucs did the only thing they could this year and that was rely on Brady.

They needed him to throw time, and time, and time again. And that didn't change this game because he had to throw 66 passes to merely mitigate a blowout.

They needed him to be their hero and carry them. He did that some games. He authored some late-game rallies and had his moments.

But Tom Brady is not the same player he was 15 years ago. Or 10 years ago.

He's a great passer who needs time to do his job.

And when he doesn't get that time, he makes mistakes like that red zone interception. Or he simply throws knuckleballs into the ground nowhere near receivers.

Nobody loves to stand in the pocket and get blown up every down. And definitely not a 45-year-old man.

So returning to the Buccaneers is going to require some commitment from the club that things are going to change.

Brady Has Options Beyond Buccaneers

So what options will Tom Brady consider beyond Tampa Bay? What other team makes sense?

Any team should want the greatest quarterback of all time. It seems like a no-brainer.

Except it's not.

It takes a lot of thinking and planning.

Because what team with a great running game and offensive line and playmakers on the outside are ready for Brady to commit one season -- at most -- to take a shot at winning big?

It's a rhetorical question. Because I don't know. You don't know.

And, most importantly, Tom Brady doesn't know. That will be a conversation between his agent and various teams soon enough. But there's more to consider than merely the right football fit. There would have to be the right geographical fit, too.

His children with ex-wife Gisele Bündchen live in Miami. His eldest son Jack, who is Bridget Moynahan's son, also lives on the east coast.

So the idea of going to Tennessee or even New Orleans or Washington make some sense. But none are perfect fits.

And Las Vegas seems to be no geographical fit at all.

That is not ultimately the question at this stage. Brady isn't ready to make that decision.

Tom Brady Not Yet Ready To Decide Anything

One person familiar with his thinking told OutKick last week that Brady truly has not fully considered what to do next, much less where to be next.

And it is possible his next gig is on television. He has a 10-year contract with FOX waiting for him. That deal is worth a reported $375 million.

But in a year he navigated a hard season, a divorce, and life as a single father, Brady wants time to decompress. He deserves time to decompress.

After that we'll come to know the fate of the greatest quarterback of all time.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero