‘Door is never closed’ if Tom Brady wants to return to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Bruce Arians, Jason Licht prepared to move on

INDIANAPOLIS — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht said Tuesday that while they will leave the door open for a possible return for quarterback Tom Brady, who will remain under contract despite retiring, they are preparing to move on without him this offseason.

“That door is never closed. Whenever Tom wants to come back, he’s back. If Tom wants to come back, we’ll have plenty of money for him,” Arians said to reporters at the NFL scouting combine, adding that the two continue to stay in touch, as do Brady and Licht.

“I think with a Tom Brady, I personally never want to completely close the door,” Licht said. “Now, I don’t have any information that suggests that he is going to come back. I’m very good friends with him. We talk, [but] we haven’t talked about that. Don’t want to apply any pressure in that regard right now. But he’s Tom Brady. If a Tom Brady wants to come back, we’d welcome him back.”

Arians expressed less optimism than Licht about a possible comeback, even though Brady hasn’t closed the door publicly on a return, and even discussed it on his Sirius XM “Let’s Go!” podcast because of the reasons Brady retired – primarily to spend more time with his family.

“He slammed the door shut when I talked to him,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I think like a lot of these guys, he likes to have his name out there.”

Arians admitted he was surprised when Brady announced his retirement, despite reports suggesting it might happen.

“Every time I met with him, he felt fantastic,” Arians said. “I kept asking him, ‘How do you feel? How do you feel?’ He said, ‘It’s the best I felt in 10 years.’ After Week 16, the way he was playing, I had myself convinced he was coming back.

Did Licht, who met Brady in 2002 when he was the New England Patriots’ assistant director of player personnel, see it coming?

“When we signed Tom two years ago, none of us knew how long it would be,” Licht said. “If it was one year, two years. I was hoping until he was 50. But no one really knew. So, not really a total shocking surprise when he’s the type that evaluates everything. [He] continues to evaluate everything. He literally went out on top if he did, in fact, remove. We always took advantage, and never took him for granted.”

Arians described his relationship with Brady as “fantastic” despite reports surfacing in recent weeks that friction was starting to develop. Arians even joked that he intends to challenge Brady to a game of golf.

“‘Hey, let’s play golf. If I beat your ass, you’re coming back!'” Arians said laughing. But jokes aside, Arians said that if Brady does come out of retirement, they will not be accommodating other teams in acquiring him. “Nope,” Arians said. “Bad business.”

Because Brady is still under contract with the Buccaneers, they still hold his rights, which is what happened with the New England Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski when he came out of retirement to join Brady. The Bucs traded a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for Gronkowski and a seventh round pick to acquire him.

But in this instance, it would require significant draft capital. “Five No. 1s. Maybe,” Arians said.

Don’t expect other teams to be helping the Buccaneers, either. Although the team indicated previously that they’d look to add a quarterback via free agency or the draft, the options are slim. Arians said there are just two quarterbacks in free agency the Bucs would consider signing, whereas there are eight under contract with other teams, and he doesn’t see more than one or two of them potentially being traded because most teams don’t have viable backup options in a year when supply doesn’t match demand.

“Trades are just out of the question, I think. You have to have a partner,” Arians said. “These guys aren’t just willing to go, ‘Hey, you want my guy?’ Who’s behind door No. 2 for them? I don’t see very many of these guys getting traded. There might be one, max two, of guys we think could take us to the Super Bowl.”

The plan is to have four quarterbacks, and Kyle Trask, a second-round draft pick last year, will get an opportunity to compete for the starting job despite seeing no regular-season action last year, with Blaine Gabbert stepping in when Brady came out of games last year.

“Kyle’s gonna get a great, great shot. I mean, he’s earned his shot,” Arians said. “I’m really, really impressed with the way he improved the things he needed to when he was running the scout team, his presence in the pocket, movement in the pocket — all those things on and off the field that Tom taught him , leaning out, getting a little quicker — he can throw it. If it’s Blaine, does he turn it over?”

Could Trask surprise people the way Mac Jones did with the Patriots last year as a rookie?

“I definitely think so,” Licht said. “I definitely think he’s got a chance. He’s shown all the signs that it’s pointing that way with his intelligence, his ability to pick up the offense, his work ethic, the way he absorbs information and retains information, and the way he throws the ball. He’s changed his body a little bit. He’s surprisingly athletic out there — more so coming off his senior year at Florida.”

Arians said the organization would not be opposed to bringing back Jameis Winston, whom Licht selected first overall in the 2015 NFL draft before he signed as a free agent backup with the New Orleans Saints in 2020. Winston is set to become a free agent again. However, Arians said, “I don’t think it’s [returning to Tampa Bay] the best thing for him.”

Another quarterback the Bucs have been linked to is Deshaun Watson, but he currently faces accusations of sexual assault by 22 different women. Licht declined to discuss Watson because his personal policy is not to discuss players under contract with other teams, while Arians said ownership would have to make the call.

“It would strictly be organizational signoff,” Arians said. “I’ve known the kid for a long time. I’m shocked that he’s in this situation. But that would be a strict organizational signoff.”

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