Tom Brady deserves to be considered among sporting greats such as Michael Jordan, Rafael Nadal and LeBron James, according to his former New England Patriots team-mate Eric Rowe.

The quarterback announced his retirement on Tuesday after a 22-year career that saw him win an unprecedented seven Super Bowl titles, six with the Patriots and one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rowe played alongside Brady at Gillette Stadium for three seasons between 2016 and 2019, and said the 44-year-old belongs in the conversation with the great sporting icons.

"Oh, man, he's right there," Rowe said in an exclusive interview with Stats Perform.

"You say Serena [Williams], Nadal, you could say Michael Jordan, you could say LeBron [James] you could say Kobe [Bryant], you're definitely saying Tom Brady. He's definitely in that little name bucket."

Rowe, now at the Miami Dolphins, was also asked what words come to mind when it comes to Brady, with the first unsurprisingly being "championships", with the safety clarifying: "because he's won so many in our era, at least in my era.

"Then I think just 'leadership'. One of the greatest players, he had a lot of, I wouldn't say heat, but people kind of question, 'he has been at the Patriots for some 20 odd years, and then he can't do it anywhere else'.

"He went to another team and brought them a championship. So that just shows how much leadership he has within himself."

Rowe also outlined what set Brady apart from the rest and what his legacy will mean for the NFL.

"Yeah, his legacy. Obviously, his name is going to live on forever. Just as players, you know who way back then, how their name still comes around today.

"And people, even kids [who] obviously didn't grow up watching them know who they are, so his name, 20, 30 years from now [people will say] 'oh, yeah, Tom Brady'.

"You know, still one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, so his legacy's gonna live on."

Brady retires with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

The 2021 season was Brady's 19th different campaign with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

Roger Goodell's description of Tom Brady on Tuesday as merely "one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL" felt a little generous to the competition. 

In the period of claim and counter-claim between reports of his retirement on Saturday and confirmation on Tuesday, the verdict had been cast – not that it was ever in doubt. 

Among others, Patrick Mahomes, better placed than most to consider quality quarterback play, told ESPN: "His career is one of a kind. That's why he's the GOAT." 

There is no dispute, no debate: Brady is the greatest. 

The 44-year-old leads the way by most metrics, including the most important one, with an unprecedented seven Super Bowl championships. 

Yet the stunning nature of some of those successes mean the emotional argument in Brady's favour is as convincing as the statistical one. 

Unmoved by his NFL-record 84,520 passing yards? Try the Super Bowl LI comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. 

This career had it all, and most dissenting voices had long since disappeared by the time Brady arrived in Tampa in 2020 "as the greatest football player of all time", as Bruce Arians put it. He still had another title in him. 

But Brady has not just set the standard in the NFL for the past 22 years; his achievements are surely unmatched across the entire sporting world. 

BEATING THE BEST

Wrestling with past legacies is never easy for an elite sports star. Even as the best of their generation, comparisons will be drawn with those who have gone before. 

In the case of LeBron James in the NBA, Michael Jordan casts a long shadow. 

James may now widely be considered the second-greatest player in the history of the league, but the gap to the number one spot scarcely seems to be closing, even now with titles and Finals MVP recognition on three different teams – and his own Space Jam sequel. 

Elsewhere, Formula One's Lewis Hamilton has done what James could not with Jordan in matching Michael Schumacher's haul of titles. 

But when Hamilton closed in on a record-breaking eighth drivers' championship in 2021, rival Sebastian Vettel scoffed: "Even if Lewis wins, to me Michael is still the greatest. Lewis can win one more, two more, three more, five more championships, but it doesn't change anything for me." 

The combination of being unable to see two athletes side by side and having memories tinged with nostalgia makes life hard on the modern great. 

For Brady, Joe Montana was the closest thing to a Jordan or Schumacher figure at quarterback. 

Although Montana ranked sixth for all-time passing yards – Dan Marino, the 20th century's passing yards leader, never won a title – his four Super Bowls had matched Terry Bradshaw's benchmark and were still fresh enough in the memory in 2000, the last coming in the 1989 season. 

Yet that was a gap Brady was swiftly able to bridge. By August 2005, with three rings already in his collection, the headline of a GQ profile asked if the Patriots passer was "the best there ever was". 

At 27, 10 years younger than James and Hamilton are now, there appeared little doubt Brady would leave Marino behind. 

TOP OF HIS CLASS

Perhaps Brady benefited from the standard of the competition. His career overlapped with Brett Favre at the start, Mahomes at the end and met with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers somewhere around the middle, all of them forcing him to raise his game. 

But such depth of talent can so easily muddy the waters. 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have matched each other stride for stride, meaning there remains no consensus pick for football's 'GOAT'. Both merit the position, yet neither have dominated an era like Pele or Diego Maradona. 

In tennis, the tussle is even more intense. Until Rafael Nadal's Australian Open triumph on Sunday, three men were tied on a record 20 grand slam titles. 

Injuries to Roger Federer and coronavirus complications with Novak Djokovic may be enough to keep Nadal at the summit, but personal preference dictates the all-time rankings when the margins are so fine. 

Again, however, Brady came through. None of those modern-day rivals have won three Super Bowls, let alone matching Montana's four or Brady's staggering seven. 

Mahomes had appeared the most likely to challenge that mark in the years to come, but four seasons as a starter have now yielded one title. At the same point, Brady had three and that GQ headline. 

"To win that many Super Bowls and win that many games, it's hard," Mahomes said after losing Sunday's AFC Championship Game. "I understand that. The years that I've had, I've been close a lot.  

"I've only been there twice, and I've only won once. I understand it takes a special player ... for that to happen." 

In Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert, Mahomes will not have it easy going forward either – an exciting new generation guarding Brady's legacy, not that he could not have done it himself had he chosen to play on. 

Brady, in the regular season and playoffs, holds a 3-2 record against Mahomes, 4-0 against Allen and 1-0 against Herbert. He never faced Burrow, potentially the next Super Bowl-winning QB. 

Instead, the perennial winner departs not as a champion – he has been that enough times – but as undoubtedly the best player his sport has ever seen. A rare phenomenon indeed. 

Tom Brady was hailed as the ultimate team player by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft after the superstar quarterback confirmed his retirement.

Mention of the Patriots was conspicuously absent from Brady's long retirement note, despite the 44-year-old winning six Super Bowls with the team.

He saw out the final two years of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, adding another Super Bowl ring to achieve an unprecedented haul.

Regardless of whether Brady deliberately left the Patriots out of his farewell note, there remains obvious affection from Kraft towards the team's former main man, and Brady later expressed his gratitude for Kraft's message on social media.

Together with coach Bill Belichick, Brady helped New England become the most successful team in the NFL since the turn of the century.

Kraft, chairman and CEO of the Patriots, said: "Words cannot describe the feelings I have for Tom Brady, nor adequately express the gratitude my family, the New England Patriots and our fans have for Tom for all he did during his career. A generation of football fans have grown up knowing only an NFL in which Tom Brady dominated.

"He retires with nearly every NFL career passing record, yet the only one that ever mattered to him was the team's win-loss record. In his 20 years as a starter his teams qualified for the playoffs 19 times. He led his teams to 10 Super Bowls, winning an NFL-record seven championships.

"In a team sport like football, it is rare to see an individual have such a dominant impact on a team's success.

"You didn't have to be a Patriots fan to respect and appreciate his competitiveness, determination and will to win that fuelled his success. As a fan of football, it was a privilege to watch. As a Patriots fan, it was a dream come true.

"I have the greatest respect for Tom personally and always will. His humility, coupled with his drive and ambition, truly made him special. I will always feel a close bond to him and will always consider him an extension of my immediate family."

Brady later expressed his appreciation on Twitter, simply writing: "Thank you Patriots Nation. I'm beyond grateful. Love you all."

Tom Brady has called time on his NFL career after 22 seasons, at the age of 44.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback officially announced his decision on Tuesday after days of speculation, with the news initially having been reported on Saturday.

It means Brady's final game in the sport was the dramatic Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, in which he had led the Bucs in a remarkable late comeback.

That display, at the end of a season in which Brady led the league in passing yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), had elements of everything that made him the greatest of all time.

Brady's legacy has long been unmatched but will not now be added to, as he watches the 2022 season from his sofa.

There is little prospect of any other QB coming close in the near future, however, as Stats Perform examines the stunning numbers behind his record-breaking career.

THE BREES BATTLE

Brady's seven Super Bowls counted for more than any other statistic ever could, but there was still intrigue around his battle with Drew Brees for a number of all-time passing marks.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers the year after Brady was selected by the New England Patriots, forever pitting the pair against one another.

But the long-time New Orleans Saints QB did not quite have Brady's longevity, retiring a year earlier, and allowed the gap between the two men's achievements to widen in 2021.

Brady leads the NFL with 84,520 passing yards, ahead of the second-placed Brees and his 80,358.

In terms of touchdown passes, it is a similar story. Brady's 624 top the charts, with Brees his nearest challenger on 571.

Brees also ranks second for seasons with 20 touchdown passes (17) and team points per game among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts (27.4). Brady (19 and 28.3) is the main man in both categories.

WINS, WINS, WINS

There is an enduring debate over whether wins are a quarterback statistic, but one would have a hard time arguing otherwise in Brady's case. Even after benefiting from Bill Belichick's coaching for 20 years, the veteran headed to Tampa and won right away.

Brady finishes with 243 QB wins, meaning an incredible margin to second-placed pair Peyton Manning and Brett Favre on 186.

In fact, Brady has 69 wins in the month of December alone. In terms of a single month, Favre is next, with 52 wins also in December.

It should come as no surprise then that Brady has the best record among QBs with at least 100 starts, his .769 again comfortably ahead of the next-best performance, Roger Staubach's .746.

Of course, Brady has kept winning as each season has extended into the postseason.

He has 35 playoff wins, too many to compare to one rival QB alone. Among all NFL teams excluding Brady's Pats and Bucs, the Baltimore Ravens have won the most playoff games since 2000. They are on 16.

STILL GOING STRONG

Brady's 2021 performance made his decision to quit at this stage something of a shock. Even in his mid-40s, there have been no signs of slowing.

This was Brady's 19th different season with 3,000 passing yards – clear of Favre's 18 – and his fifth 4,000-yard season just since he turned 40.

Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Staubach and Steve Young combined for three seasons with 4,000 passing yards for their careers.

Tom Brady was saluted for "an absolutely incredible" career by Peyton Manning as the seven-time Super Bowl winner ended doubts by confirming his retirement.

Reports of Brady being ready to quit at the weekend were disputed – he was "still going through the process" on Monday – but they proved to be accurate as the 44-year-old declared on Tuesday he has played his final game.

Manning, himself one of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, doffed his cap to superstar Brady as he remembered a rival with whom he shared a firm comradeship.

"Congratulations to my friend Tom on an unbelievable football career," Manning said.

"To do it as long as he did, at the highest of levels is absolutely incredible. It was an honour and a privilege to compete against him on the field, and I truly appreciate his friendship off the field.

"I have always admired and respected his competitiveness, his dedication, his discipline, and his commitment to being the best. I wish him the best in his next chapter. Congratulations again, pal!"

Manning, one year Brady's senior, retired in 2016 after winning two Super Bowls, one each with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. He has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it will be Brady's turn in five years' time, when he becomes eligible.

Brady spent two years with the Bucs to round off his career, having won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.

A seventh ring arrived in season one in Tampa, but Brady could not guide Bruce Arians' team to another Super Bowl this time around.

Head coach Arians expressed his sorrow that Brady felt it was now time to go.

Arians said: "Tom joined us as the greatest football player of all time, and he quickly showed everyone in our organisation what that meant.

"He set a standard and helped create a culture that took our team to the mountaintop.

"It has been an honour to be his head coach for the past two seasons. I wish it didn't have to end, but few players have the opportunity to leave the game on their own terms. Even fewer can do it while playing at an elite level. Tom is the exception.

"I have a deep appreciation and respect for what he has done for our franchise, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in this chapter of life after football."

The Patriots, who were not directly thanked in a long retirement note from Brady, remarked on his retirement with a fond farewell

In a statement on Instagram, the Patriots said: "It was quite the ride. Thank you and congratulations, @tombrady."

Brady's warm words for the Bucs spoke of his enjoyment of his two-year ride into the sunset.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht, who previously worked for the Patriots, said: "I have had the distinct pleasure of being with Tom at both the beginning and end of his incredible NFL career. These past two seasons, I had the privilege to see up close the way he operates and the impact he has on a franchise – from coaches to players to staff.

"He set a standard for accountability, work ethic and performance that resonated through our building and in our locker room. His list of career accomplishments speaks for itself, but to finish a 22-year career while still performing at his peak was nothing short of extraordinary."

Tom Brady "set a standard that players will chase for years" during his storied NFL career that commissioner Roger Goodell paid tribute to following the legendary quarterback's retirement.

An ESPN report on Saturday revealed Brady was set to bring his career to a close after 22 seasons in the NFL.

Those claims were soon disputed, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar "still going through the process" on Monday as he discussed his future.

But Tuesday brought an official statement from the 44-year-old on his Instagram page.

Brady commented that the sport required "100 per cent competitive commitment" but he could no longer live up to that expectation, choosing instead to focus "time and energy on other things that require my attention".

His retirement sees the NFL lose an icon and star who has thrilled audiences for nearly quarter of a century, with his seven Super Bowl wins unmatched by anyone in the sport's history, and Goodell paid tribute to Brady's longevity and legacy.

"Tom Brady will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL," Goodell said in a statement.

"An incredible competitor and leader, his stellar career is remarkable for its longevity but also for the sustained excellence he displayed year after year.

"Tom made everyone around him better and always seemed to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments.

"His record five Super Bowl MVP awards and seven Super Bowl championships set a standard that players will chase for years.

"He inspired fans in New England, Tampa and around the world with one of the greatest careers in NFL history. 

"It has been a privilege to watch him compete and have him in the NFL. We thank him for his many contributions to our game and wish Tom and his family all the best in the future."

Tom Brady said he "loved" his NFL career but insists that "now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention".

The legendary quarterback, whose career spanned 22 years and saw him win an unprecedented seven Super Bowl titles, officially announced his retirement from the game in a statement on his Instagram page on Tuesday.

However, the 44-year-old notably did not mention his former team the New England Patriots, with whom he spent 20 seasons and won six Super Bowls.

Below is Brady's statement in full:

"I have always believed the sport of football is an 'all-in' proposition – if a 100 per cent competitive commitment isn't there, you won't succeed, and success is what I love so much about our game.

"There is a physical, mental, and emotional challenge EVERY single day that has allowed me to maximise my highest potential. And I have tried my very best these past 22 years. There are no shortcuts to success on the field or in life.

"This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment any more. I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.

"I've done a lot of reflecting the past week and have asked myself difficult questions. And I am so proud of what we have achieved. My teammates, coaches, fellow competitors and fans deserve 100 per cent of me, but right now, it's best I leave the field of play to the next generation of dedicated and committed athletes.

"To my Bucs teammates the past two years, I love you guys and I have loved going to battle with you. You have dug so deep to challenge yourself, and it inspired me to wake up every day and give you my best. I am always here for you guys and want to see you continue to push yourselves to be your best. I couldn't be happier with what we accomplished together.

"To all the Bucs fans, thank you. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived here, but your support and embrace have enriched my life and that of my family. I have been honored to play for such a passionate and fun fan base. What a Krewe!!!

"To the city of Tampa and the entire Tampa-St. Petersburg region, thank you. It has been wonderful to be a resident of such a fun place to live. I want to be invited to our next boat parade!

"To the Glazer family, thank you for taking a chance on me and supporting me. I know I was demanding at times, but you provided everything we needed to win, and your ownership was everything a player could ask for.

"To Jason Licht, thank you for your daily support and friendship - I will never forget it. I had never been through free agency, and I had some trepidation about how we could achieve success. Your leadership gave me confidence, and I will always be grateful.

"To my head coach Bruce Arians, thanks for putting up with me! Your firm leadership and guidance were ideal. There is no way we could have had success without your experience, intuition and wisdom. I am very grateful.

"To all the Bucs coaches, my sincere thanks for all the hard work, dedication and discipline that goes into creating a winning team. I have learned so much from all of you and will value the relationships we have.

"To every single Bucs staffer and employee, thank you. Each of you is critically important, and I was greeted with a smile every day. That means so much to me. Your work is made up of long hours and hard tasks, but please know I see each and every one of you. Thank you so much.

"To Alex Guerrero, thank you. I could never have made every Sunday without you; it's that simple. Your dedication to your craft and our friendship and brotherhood are immeasurable. We have an unbreakable bond and I love you.

"To Don Yee and Steve Dubin, thank you. You've been with me every step of the way since I left the University of Michigan and before I entered the league. What a journey it's been, and I couldn't do it without you.

"To my parents and entire family (and extended family of countless friends), I love you and thank you for your never-ending support and love. I could never have imagined the time and energy you have given me the past 30 years in football. I can never repay you. And just know I love you so much.

"And lastly to my wife Gisele, and my children Jack, Benny and Vivi. You are my inspiration. Our family is my greatest achievement. I always came off the field and home to the most loving and supportive wife who has done EVERYTHING for our family to allow me to focus on my career. Her selflessness allowed me to reach new heights professionally, and I am beyond words what you mean to me and our family. Te amo amor da minha vida.

"My playing career has been such a thrilling ride, and far beyond my imagination, and full of ups and downs. When you're in it every day, you really don't think about any kind of ending. As I sit here now, however, I think of all the great players and coaches I was privileged to play with and against - the competition was fierce and deep, JUST HOW WE LIKE IT.

"But the friendships and relationships are just as fierce and deep. I will remember and cherish these memories and re-visit them often. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

"The future is exciting. I'm fortune to have co-founded incredible companies like Autograph.io, Brady Brand and TB12 Sports that I'm excited to continue to help build and grow, but exactly what my days will look like will be a work-in-progress. As I said earlier, I am going to take it day by day.

"I know for sure I want to spend a lot of time giving to others and trying to enrich other people's lives, just as so many have done for me.

"With much love, appreciation and gratitude. Tom"

Tom Brady has officially retired.

After premature reports at the weekend prompted backlash, the decision was confirmed on Tuesday, leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to replace the greatest of all time this offseason.

The Buccaneers do have an in-house option but, if head coach Bruce Arians stays on board as expected, it is likely he will want a quarterback who can help an extremely talented team, albeit one that could lose some of that talent in free agency, contend for further Super Bowls.

So who could be in line to take the reins under center from Brady?

Stats Perform looks at the young gun who may have the substantial challenge of stepping into Brady's shoes and, with free agent options thin on the ground, three players they could target in a trade to run the offense.

 

Kyle Trask

The Buccaneers selected Trask, a Heisman Trophy finalist in his final year at Florida in 2020, in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay probably would have liked him to have another year of seasoning before throwing him in at the deep end, but they now have to consider whether he is ready to make the leap to the starting role in the pros.

Trask led the FBS in passing touchdowns with 43 in his final season with the Gators and, though there should be cause for concern over an elongated throwing motion and his decision-making, his play under pressure in college in 2020 was encouraging.

Indeed, Trask delivered a well-thrown ball on 74.56 of his pass attempts when under pressure – only three Power 5 quarterbacks (min. 50 attempts under pressure) fared better.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo is almost certain to be on the trade market after he crumbled in the fourth quarter of the San Francisco 49ers' NFC Championship Game defeat to the Los Angeles Rams. 

With Trey Lance waiting in the wings, the Niners will likely look to recoup what they can for a quarterback who helped them reach Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season.

Despite his 31-14 record in the regular season with the 49ers, the Buccaneers may be reticent to strike a deal for a quarterback whose skill set would not appear to mesh well with Arians' aggressive downfield passing attack.

Garoppolo averaged just 7.51 air yards per attempt in 2021, the eighth-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

Russell Wilson

If you want downfield aggressiveness, look no further than Wilson.

Only Justin Fields (10.02) averaged more air yards per attempt than Wilson (10) in 2021, while Davis Mills (114.6), another rookie, was the sole quarterback to have a higher passer rating on attempts of 21 air yards or more (114.0) among signal-callers with at least 25 attempts of that distance.

The stylistic fit is obvious, and the Buccaneers critically have the offensive line to satisfy Wilson's main issue with the Seattle Seahawks, a lack of pass protection.

But, with an ageing core, it is debatable at best whether the Bucs would consider mortgaging their future in a blockbuster trade for Wilson, and it's still not clear whether Seattle would even come to the table.

Aaron Rodgers

The potential biggest prize out there on the trade market seems like the largest long shot for the Bucs.

Rodgers would no doubt be able to adapt to Arians' offense and, if the Bucs keep hold of Chris Godwin, he would be thrilled with the receiving corps he would have at his disposal.

Yet there are signs of an improving relationship between Rodgers and the Packers' brass and perhaps a willingness to give it another go even after this season's playoff failure.

If Rodgers does decide he wants to go elsewhere, the Denver Broncos would be the favourites to land him having hired former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach. The Bucs may have to give it the hard sell to land Rodgers.

In the NFL, it is very difficult to go out on top.

Parity reigns supreme in North America's dominant league, with no team since the 2004 New England Patriots achieving the feat of winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

As such, the task of winning the Super Bowl in your final season as a player is an extremely challenging one, especially in an era where there is an apparent production line of young quarterbacks rapidly ascending to the top of the sport.

John Elway and Peyton Manning both did it, in the 1998 and 2015 seasons respectively, both signing off with Super Bowl victories for the Denver Broncos. 

But neither nor Elway nor Manning could be considered at the top of their game, with both arguably carried to the title by an extremely talented roster.

Tom Brady could not replicate their achievement but, though he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came up short against the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in what proved his final game, the case can be made his farewell was superior even without it coming on the Super Bowl podium.

Brady will, of course, look back on his Super Bowl-winning seasons with the greatest fondness. However, his 2021 numbers compare favourably with those from a 2007 campaign most consider his finest, another year in which he did not lift the Lombardi Trophy.

In 2007, Brady threw for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and averaged 300.4 yards per game. That touchdown tally trails only Manning in 2013 (55) for the most in a single season, Brady forming a devastating combination with wide receiver Randy Moss in a Patriots offense that is regarded as one of the greatest in NFL history

The yardage total was topped in 2011 (5,235) and 2012 (4,827), yet the zenith in that sense came in 2021, Brady racking up a league-leading 5,316 passing yards at an average of 312.7 yards per game while also leading the NFL with 43 touchdowns.

Those numbers served as a further testament to his ability to adapt to Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians' aggressive downhill passing game following his switch from the New England Patriots after the 2019 season.

His 42 passing plays of 25 yards or more were the most in the 2021 regular season, Brady continuing to produce explosive plays in a year that saw him shorn of the services of Chris Godwin through injury and, later in the year, Antonio Brown following the All-Pro wide receiver's very public split from the Bucs.

Delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 79.2 per cent of his attempts in 2021 – the average among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts was 78.3 – and throwing a pickable pass on only 2.56 per cent of passes, third-best for signal-callers to meet that threshold, there was no sign of a drop-off in terms of accuracy or decision-making from Brady in his final year.

The combination of accuracy and an arm clearly still strong enough to make throws to every level of the field came to the fore as Brady pounced on a collection of Rams errors to help the Bucs fight back from 27-3 down to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, his 55-yard bomb to Mike Evans to cut the gap to seven points encapsulating his ability to still produce the remarkable even with a depleted receiving group and his offensive line being bullied by Los Angeles.

That the Rams recovered to kick the game-winning field goal is almost immaterial. Brady's send-off was still a thrilling one and a scarcely needed reminder that, in his unprecedented two-plus decades of dominance, no lead was ever safe.

For Elway and Manning, their career-ending Super Bowl triumphs were legacy-defining. Brady did not need to pad his legacy any further but still threw for over 4,000 yards for the fifth time since turning 40 and delivered one final bewitching rollercoaster.

Brady did not go out on top but, rather than being carried to victory, he exited the stage still arguably at the peak of his powers having narrowly missed out on lifting his team to an astonishing comeback win. It wasn't a winning farewell but, in every other sense, it was the perfect Brady goodbye.

Tom Brady has officially announced his retirement from the NFL.

An ESPN report on Saturday revealed the legendary quarterback was set to bring his career to a close after 22 seasons in the NFL.

Those claims were soon disputed, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar "still going through the process" on Monday as he discussed his future.

But Tuesday brought an official statement from Brady on the 44-year-old's Instagram page.

"I have always believed the sport of football is an 'all-in' proposition – if a 100 per cent competitive commitment isn't there, you won't succeed, and success is what I love so much about our game," he wrote.

"There is a physical, mental, and emotional challenge EVERY single day that has allowed me to maximise my highest potential.

"And I have tried my very best these past 22 years. There are no shortcuts to success on the field or in life.

"This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore.

"I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention."

Tom Brady has officially announced his retirement from the NFL.

Tom Brady said on Monday he has yet to decide whether or not he will retire from the NFL before next season.

It was reported by ESPN on Saturday that the record seven-time Super Bowl champion would bow out of the game after 22 seasons, although his agent, Don Yee, later insisted that nothing was certain until Brady himself made an announcement.

Rumours emerged prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Divisional Round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams that the 44-year-old was non-committal about playing beyond the 2021 season.

The New England Patriots great previously expressed a desire to play to age 45 and was open to the idea of continuing until he turned 50, although he admitted after the defeat to the Rams that his family had become a priority when it came to his future plans.

Brady has now made it clear that he will not rush into any decision as he considers his next move.

"I'm still going through the process that I said I was going through," Brady said on the Let's Go! podcast. "Sometimes it takes some time to really evaluate how you feel, what you want to do and I think when the time is right I'll be ready to make a decision one way or the other.

"It's always a good line that I'm responsible for what I say and do, and not responsible for what others say or do. I think one thing I've learned about sports is that you control what you can control, and what you can't, you leave to others.

"We're in such an era of information and people want to be in front of the news often and I totally understand that. I understand that's the environment we're in. But I think for me, it's literally day-to-day with me. I'm just trying to do the best I can every day, evaluate things as they come, and I'm trying to make a great decision for me and my family.

"Like I've always said, I'm very blessed to play as long as I have. As things have gone on in the later parts of my career, whether that was five years ago or even this year, there's a lot of interest in when I'm going to stop playing. I understand that. It's not that I don't recognise that. When I know, I'll know. When I don't know, I don't know. I'm not going to race to some conclusion about that."

It was put to Brady that the reports around his supposed retirement could rekindle a desire to keep playing in 2022, but he said: "I think my motivation for playing football is to win and be successful and maybe there's little parts of motivation that comes from different places or what people may say or think, but I'm mostly motivated from inside and wanting to be the best for my team-mates and my coaches and my organisations.

"That's kind of where my motivation has been for a long time."

Tom Brady may or may not retire. Despite the backlash at seemingly premature reports of the end of his career, there is a strong chance the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking to replace the greatest of all time this offseason.

The Buccaneers do have an in-house option but, if head coach Bruce Arians stays on board as expected, it is likely he will want a quarterback who can help an extremely talented team, albeit one that could lose some of that talent in free agency, contend for further Super Bowls.

So who could be in line to take the reins under center from Brady?

Stats Perform looks at the young gun who may have the substantial challenge of stepping into Brady's shoes and, with free agent options thin on the ground, three players they could target in a trade to run the offense.

 

Kyle Trask

The Buccaneers selected Trask, a Heisman Trophy finalist in his final year at Florida in 2020, in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay probably would have liked him to have another year of seasoning before throwing him in at the deep end, but they may now have to consider whether he is ready to make the leap to the starting role in the pros.

Trask led the FBS in passing touchdowns with 43 in his final season with the Gators and, though there should be cause for concern over an elongated throwing motion and his decision-making, his play under pressure in college in 2020 was encouraging.

Indeed, Trask delivered a well-thrown ball on 74.56 of his pass attempts when under pressure – only three Power 5 quarterbacks (min. 50 attempts under pressure) fared better.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo is almost certain to be on the trade market after he crumbled in the fourth quarter of the San Francisco 49ers' NFC Championship Game defeat to the Los Angeles Rams. 

With Trey Lance waiting in the wings, the Niners will likely look to recoup what they can for a quarterback who helped them reach Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season.

Despite his 31-14 record in the regular season with the 49ers, the Buccaneers may be reticent to strike a deal for a quarterback whose skill set would not appear to mesh well with Arians' aggressive downfield passing attack.

Garoppolo averaged just 7.51 air yards per attempt in 2021, the eighth-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

Russell Wilson

If you want downfield aggressiveness, look no further than Wilson.

Only Justin Fields (10.02) averaged more air yards per attempt than Wilson (10) in 2021, while another rookie, Davis Mills (114.6) was the sole quarterback to have a higher passer rating on attempts of 21 air yards or more (114.0) among signal-callers with at least 25 attempts of that distance.

The stylistic fit is obvious, and the Buccaneers critically have the offensive line to satisfy Wilson's main issue with the Seattle Seahawks, a lack of pass protection.

But, with an aging core, it is debatable at best whether the Bucs would consider mortgaging their future in a blockbuster trade for Wilson, and it's still not clear whether Seattle would even come to the table.

Aaron Rodgers

The potential biggest prize out there on the trade market seems like the largest long shot for the Bucs.

Rodgers would no doubt be able to adapt to Arians' offense and, if the Bucs keep hold of Chris Godwin, he would be thrilled with the receiving corps he would have at his disposal.

Yet there are signs of an improving relationship between Rodgers and the Packers' brass and perhaps a willingness to give it another go even after this season's playoff failure.

If Rodgers does decide he wants to go elsewhere, the Denver Broncos would be the favourites to land him having hired former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach. The Bucs may have to give it the hard sell to land Rodgers.

Patrick Mahomes says he has an even greater appreciation for the NFL career of Tom Brady after the Kansas City Chiefs lost in the playoffs.

The Chiefs were shocked 27-24 by the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Despite having star quarterback Mahomes and a dominant offense, the Chiefs only have one Super Bowl title to show from their four straight championship game appearances.

Mahomes believes it shows how difficult it is to go all the way and puts the spectacular feat of Brady – soon expected to confirm his retirement – winning a record seven Super Bowl crowns into perspective.

"His career is one of a kind,'' Mahomes said, per ESPN, after the Bengals rallied from 18 points behind to record a shock win at Arrowhead Stadium. 

"That's why he's the GOAT. To win that many Super Bowls and win that many games, it's hard. 

"I understand that. The years that I've had, I've been close a lot. 

"I've only been there twice, and I've only won once. I understand it takes a special player, a special group of guys, special circumstances for that to happen.

"I'm just going to try to do whatever I can to get myself a chance every year to get in that game and to win it.''

Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also fell short in 2021, losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round.

That was a result that extended a long streak of teams being unable to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

It has not been done since Brady and the New England Patriots won the title in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004.

The Rams will meet the Bengals at SoFi Stadium on February 13.

Tom Brady is reportedly retiring from the NFL, and one of his favourite targets led the tributes on social media.

Reports of the end of Brady's 22-season career, one which delivered an unprecedented seven Super Bowl titles, emerged on Saturday.

Brady's agent, Don Yee, has since moved to clarify that a final decision has yet to be made on his client's future.

By that point, though, stars from around the sporting world had taken to Twitter to express their admiration for the man regarded as the NFL's greatest of all time.

Edelman, with whom Brady won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, was among the first to do so.

He was joined by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whom Brady beat in the AFC Championship Game en route to winning his final Super Bowl with the Patriots in the 2018 season and again in last year's Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bucs team-mates Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Richard Sherman spoke of their pride at having shared the field with Brady, while 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson also congratulated the quarterback on the most remarkable of careers.

James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Love and Bradley Beal were among those from the NBA to pay tribute to the GOAT.

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