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Tom Brady’s retirement letter ultimately means nothing

Mike Florio and Chris Simms shed light on all the benefits of Tom Brady taking a year to mentally decompress before stepping into the broadcast booth with FOX in the fall of 2024.

On Friday afternoon, someone from Tom Brady’s camp leaked to ESPN that Brady has filed a retirement letter with the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

So what does it mean? What does it not mean?

Here’s the most important thing it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that it “silences any questions about whether Brady might return.”

He can return at any time. He doesn’t even have to send in another letter to do so, unless the Buccaneers place him on the reserve-retired list before his contract voids in March. As one league source explained it, the Buccaneers can’t place him on the reserve-retired list, because his contract automatically voids in March.

On Monday, he had a chance to completely slam the door on a return, during an appearance on Colin Cowherd’s show. Brady didn’t. Later that day, he said on his podcast that he still wants to play and still believes he can play.

It also has been suggested that the move commences the process of separating Brady from NFL and NFL Players Association marketing arrangements. But he could have done that at any time, whether he was or wasn’t playing.

For example, if he didn’t want to be in the Madden game, he could have opted out of the group licensing arrangement at any point in his career. (Madden will now have to negotiate a separate deal with Brady, in order to use his name, image, and likeness.)

Brady also could have declined to allow his name to be used for jerseys sold by the league. And he could have (and still can) design and sell a football jersey with his number and name -- absent any NFL or team logos or trademarks.

The letter also is irrelevant to his eligibility for pension benefits or enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. For benefits, the only requirement is that the player has gone a full season without playing. For the Hall of Fame, he must go five straight years without playing. A retirement letter does not start either clock.

The retirement letter also doesn’t prevent the Patriots from signing him to a one-day contract. Again, once he becomes a free agent in March, he can sign any type of contract with any team.

Beyond getting a little free publicity and attention two days before the Super Bowl, the retirement letter has only one practical impact. It makes it awkward for the Bucs to ask him to do a one-year dummy deal that drives down his $35.1 million dead-money cap charge for 2023. “I’m retired,” would be the automatic response to any effort to get him to sign a new deal.

But he could still sign a one-year contract for the veteran minimum, with the Buccaneers officially placing him on the reserve-retired list after June 1. That would result in a $10.776 million cap charge for 2023, and it would push $24.328 million in dead money to 2024.

It will be interesting to see whether the Buccaneers try to get him to do it, and whether he hides (disingenuously) behind the idea that he has retired. If he resists the effort to reduce his cap consequences for 2023, Brady will definitely become a free agent in March. Which will allow him to sign with any other team at any time.

And the retirement letter does absolutely nothing to change that.

Bottom line? The retirement letter means nothing. Other than to inject Brady’s name into the NFL conversation on the Friday of Super Bowl weekend.