It became real for Tom Brady on the night of Monday, March 16.
That’s when he called Patriots owner Robert Kraft. That’s when the quarterback made the drive to Kraft’s Massachusetts home, which is in the same neighborhood where Brady once lived. It was that night that Brady decided his playing days in New England were over.
Four days before signing a two-year, $50-million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady took the high road with the Patriots. He told Kraft in person that he appreciated everything he had done for him, but that he was not going to be back with the Pats in 2020. That same night, he spoke with Jonathan Kraft and Bill Belichick, as well, by phone.
On Tuesday, Brady stayed on the high road in his introductory conference call with the media as the Bucs’ new quarterback. The 42-year-old didn’t take any shots at the Patriots and wished his former team well. He didn’t talk much about his decision to leave the team he had played with for 20 years, but said he mentally cut the cord on March 16.
“It was really the night I had spoke with Mr. Kraft and asked if I could come over and see him and we spoke and had a great conversation,” Brady said. “I just wanted to express what he’s meant to me in my life and we spoke to coach Belichick at the same time. We were in different locations so we talked to him and it was a great conversation. Got a chance to talk to Jonathan Kraft as well. All three of those guys have been involved in so many decisions in my life — career-related, personal-related. I leave there with just great admiration for the people and the organization.
“It’s a world-class, first-class organization in every way. I wanted to leave it that way, too. 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.”
Brady’s departure from the Patriots sent shockwaves through the sports world. On Tuesday, he seemed excited about his new opportunity with the Bucs and his new coaches. Although things in New England didn’t end completely clean, you couldn’t tell on Tuesday.
After Brady announced on social media he wouldn’t be back with the Pats, Kraft did a series of interviews on the subject. The Patriots owner made it clear that he wanted the quarterback to stay in Foxboro, but told the Boston Globe, “If he wanted to be here, we would have put a deal together.”
Kraft said he originally thought Brady wanted to go to his house to figure out a new contract. When asked about Kraft’s quote, Brady declined comment.
“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. I’m so grateful for two decades … I’m excited for this opportunity that I have. I can only speak to how I feel. I wrote about that on my social media the other day. This was getting to be a free agent and having the opportunity to join the Bucs was something I was really excited about. That’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
Brady decided to sign with the Buccaneers over an offer from the Los Angeles Chargers. Many people were surprised to learn that the Patriots never officially offered Brady a deal this offseason. On Tuesday, when asked if he felt like he deserved more, Brady paid respect to Belichick and the Kraft family.
“I have a great deal of respect. There’s no one who is a bigger fan of the Patriots than me,” Brady said. “I have nothing but total respect and love. I’m so grateful to Mr. Kraft, the organization and coach Belichick and all the coaches.”
Since signing with Tampa Bay, Brady said he’s had a lot of “very emotional” conversations with teammates. When asked what it would have taken for him to have returned to the Patriots, Brady wouldn’t answer.
“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 have nothing but two decades of an incredible experience and learning from some of the best players and 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. With each of those changes becomes different opportunities to learn and grow. And that’s where I’m at.”
On Twitter: @MarkDanielsPJ