The time has finally come. For the first time since leaving the organization in the spring of 2020, Tom Brady will enter Gillette Stadium to face his former team in the New England Patriots and former coach in Bill Belichick. "The Return," as it's being billed, is arguably the most highly-anticipated regular-season matchup in NFL history, as Brady will go toe-to-toe against the team he won six of his seven championships with. It'll certainly be appointment viewing for all football fans, but how did we get here? What was the road that ultimately led to Brady leaving the Patriots?
Below, we're going to revisit the major headlines from Brady's free agent tour all the way up until he inked his deal with Tampa Bay. Each step of the way, you'll see the developments as they were reported in real-time from his last game with the Patriots to his arrival to Tampa.
Patriots lose to Titans, Brady mum about future
Jan. 4, 2020
Tom Brady's last game as a Patriot came during Wild Card Weekend when New England was eliminated at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, 20-13. Even at the time, it felt like Brady's tenure had gasped its last breath.
"I just don't know what's going to happen," the free agent to-be said after the game when asked about his future. "I'm not going to predict it and no one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football. I love playing for this team. I loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. Again, I just don't know what it looks like going forward, so we'll just take it day by day."
Kraft hopes Brady re-signs or retires
Jan. 6, 2020
Patriots owner Robert Kraft opened up to Peter King of NBC Sports about Brady's looming free agency. He admitted that his hope was for Brady to either re-sign with New England or walk away from the game altogether. He also gave us a look at Brady's thinking prior to the 2019 season when speaking about giving him the freedom to possibly hit free agency.
"Before the season started, it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year," Kraft told King. "You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to six Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he's part of my family. Blood family. Anyone who's done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years."
Brady prepared to speak with other teams in free agency
Jan. 19, 2020
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that Brady was prepared to meet with teams other than the Patriots in free agency. This served as one of the initial signs that a departure was truly on the table. La Canfora noted that Brady would simply be looking for whichever destination gave him the best chance to win a seventh Lombardi Trophy.
Buccaneers a "sleeping giant"
Jan. 30, 2020
Tampa Bay was quickly looked at as a possible destination for Brady. During an appearance on WEEI, NBC Sports' Peter King highlighted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a
Patriots yet to reach out to Brady
Feb. 27, 2020
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reported at the time that the Patriots still had not reached out to Brady about a potential new contract. A source also told Guregian "it's not looking good" for a Brady return to New England.
Brady, Edelman attend Syracuse game
Feb. 29, 2020
Tom Brady and Julian Edelman were spotted at a Syracuse-UNC basketball game, sitting alongside "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon. The trio was then shown on national television with Edelman telling the camera, "he's coming back, he's coming back" while pointing at Brady. The quarterback looked less than pleased with Edelman's remark.
The two were also seen FaceTiming with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. That drew particular interest with Tennessee being one of the possible free agent destinations for Brady.
March 3, 2020
Albert Breer of the MMQB reported that both the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants were crossed off the list of potential Brady landing spots, saying he "was told pretty emphatically that neither club would be in the mix." The Chargers, Titans and Buccaneers were among the clubs still vying for Brady's services, per Breer, along with the Patriots.
Brady to San Francisco gains steam
March 4, 2020
During a SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio interview, Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston said that San Francisco is "Jimmy Garoppolo.. On top of that, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reacted to Curran's report with a piece of her own that had her sources saying he "might be on to something." The Niners -- Brady's hometown team -- could have cleared $22.4 million off their salary cap at the time had they released
Brady, Belichick call 'didn't go well'
March 4, 2020
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady finally spoke over the phone about the quarterback's upcoming free agent status and, as the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian reported at the time, those talks "didn't go well." That was the first time the two sides had broached the subject, and it didn't exactly start off on a positive note.
Bucs going all in on Brady
March 11, 2020
ESPN's Dianna Russini reported that Tampa Bay was ready to give Tom Brady "whatever he wants" if the quarterback was willing to sign with them. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times confirmed that the Bucs "."
Titans re-sign Ryan Tannehill
March 15, 2020
Instead of making a hard push at Brady, Tennessee ultimately decided to re-sign Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million deal.
Bucs become betting favorite to land Brady
March 16, 2020
Mike Giardi of the NFL Network reported that the Buccaneers had made their intentions to Brady "loud and clear." It was then that Tampa Bay became the betting favorite to land the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Brady announces he will not return to Patriots
March 17, 2020
Tom Brady officially moves on. The quarterback took to social media releasing a length statement saying he will not be re-signing with the New England Patriots, ending his 20-year run with the franchise.
"I wanted to say thank you to all of the incredible fans and Patriots supporters," he said in a statement. "MA has been my home for twenty years. It has truly been the happiest two decades I could have envisioned in my life and I have nothing but love and gratitude for my time in New England. The support has been overwhelming - I wish every player could experience it. My children were born and raised here and you always embraced this California kid as your own. I love your commitment and loyalty to your teams and winning for our city means more than you will ever know.
"I can't thank you enough for the support of our team. The packed training camps and sold out stadiums and mostly the victory parades. I have been so blessed to share them with you all. I tried to represent us always in the best and most honorable way and I fought hard with my teammates to help bring victory and triumph even in the most dire situations. You opened your heart to me, and I opened my heart to you. And Pats Nation will always be a part of me.
"I don't know what my football future holds but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will always love you and what we have shared - a lifetime full of fun memories."
This announcement came after Brady is said to have visited Kraft's house to tell him the news face-to-face with Bill Belichick also present on the phone.
Patriots release statements about Brady's departure
March 17, 2020
In the aftermath of Tom Brady's departure, owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick released two lengthy statements.
"How do I possibly sum up the depth of my gratitude to Tom Brady for what he's given us these past 20 years, or the sadness I feel knowing it's ending? I love Tom like a son and I always will. He has brought so much happiness to me personally and to all of our fans. I had hoped this day would never come, but rather that Tom would end his remarkable career in a Patriots uniform after yet another Super Bowl championship. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow that dream to become a reality. While sad today, the overwhelming feeling I have is appreciation for his countless contributions to our team and community.
"When Tom arrived in New England as an unheralded, sixth-round pick, no one could have imagined the fairytale story that would be written, the records that would be broken or the joy he would bring to an entire region. He leaves 20 years later as the winningest quarterback in NFL history with six Super Bowl victories, nine AFC titles and 17 division championships. He has been an exemplary teammate and leader. There simply will never be another Tom Brady. I now look forward to the day we can bring him back home to New England to celebrate his Patriots career, his endless achievements and his legacy as the greatest of all time. I love him very much."
"Tom was not just a player who bought into our program. He was one of its original creators. Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone setter and a bar raiser. He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in most every season in between. This is a credit to Tom's consistency and what separates him. He didn't just perform. He didn't just win. He won championships over and over again.
"Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation. Tom's success as a player and his character as a person are exceptional. Nothing about the end of Tom's Patriots career changes how unfathomably spectacular it was. With his relentless competitiveness and longevity, he earned everyone's adoration and will be celebrated forever. It has been a privilege to coach Tom Brady for 20 years.
"Examples of Tom's greatness are limitless, going back even before he was drafted. We witnessed how he prepared when he wasn't playing, how he performed when he got his opportunity, what he did to continuously improve, his leadership, his mindset, the example he set, and, of course, the person he is. I am extremely grateful for what he did for our team and for me personally.
"Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time."
Brady officially signs with Buccaneers
March 20, 2020
While it was reported that Brady would sign with the Buccaneers a few days prior, he officially put pen to paper to join Tampa Bay on March 20 after conducting his physical in New York. Brady's contract with the Bucs was a two-year, $50 million deal (fully guaranteed).