Tom Bradyset sail from New England to Tampa Bay this offseason, creating waves throughout the NFL world as the greatest quarterback of all time embarked on a new journey for the first time in his 20-year career.
In a lengthy, two-plus-hour, wide-ranging interview with Howard Stern on Wednesday morning, Brady admitted he knew before the 2019 season it would likely be his last year with the Patriots.
"I don't think there was a final, final decision until it happened, but I would say I probably knew before the start of the season that it was my last year. I knew that our time was coming to an end," Brady said on Stern's SiriusXM show.
In his first in-depth discussion about leaving the only franchise he'd known, TB12 said he felt it was time for a new challenge.
"There was a time before last offseason, I had a contract that got restructured, and basically, from my standpoint, I knew that at the end of the year I was going to become a free agent for the first time in my career," Brady said. "And I had spoken about it with the ownership of the team, Mr. Kraft, and he was good with it. I had spoken about it with coach Belichick, he was good with it. That's what we decided to do. And if we, over the course of the season, and the offseason, there wasn't a ton of substantial conversations for us to continue. We had some. And we both thought about it, and in the end, it was just a great way to end two decades. We had a great conversation ... I said this before, there is no bigger fan of the New England Patriots organization than me. But at the same time, that doesn't mean that I could continue to play there at the highest level. I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can still perform at the highest level."
Brady added he holds no resentment that he won't be a Patriot for life.
"No, absolutely not," he said. "No, because this is a part for me in my life to experience something very different. There's ways for me to grow and evolve in a different way that I haven't had the opportunity to do, that aren't right or wrong, they're just right for me."
After 20 years with the Patriots, during which he won six Super Bowls and 17 AFC East titles, Brady is on to a new challenge. The 42-year-old said retiring wasn't in his mindset, and playing his entire career in New England was never a goal.
"I never cared about legacy. I could give a s---- about (legacy)," Brady told Stern. "I never once when I was in high school did I think 'Man, I can't wait for what my football legacy looks like.' That's not me, that's not my personality.
"Why would I choose a different place? It's because it was just time. I don't know what to say other than that. I accomplished everything I could in two decades with an incredible organization, an incredible group of people, and that will never change. No one can ever take that away from me. No one can take those experiences or Super Bowl championships away from us."
In the coming years, debates about who played a bigger role in the greatest run in modern sports will be debated to no end: Bill Belichick or Tom Brady.
TB12 dismissed the debate as hogwash.
"It's a pretty s------ argument that people would say that because, again, I can't do his job and he can't do mine," he said. "So, the fact that you can say 'would I be successful without him?' The same level of success? I don't believe I would have been. But I feel the same vice-versa as well. To have him (as a coach) allowed me to be the best I could be. So, I'm grateful for that. And I very much believe he feels the same way about me because we've expressed that to each other."
Over the years, the Patriots have drafted quarterbacks -- from Jimmy Garoppolo to Jacoby Brissett to Jarrett Stidham -- with the belief that Brady's career was nearing the end. The quarterback said he understands Belichick's desire to plan for the future and holds no ill will toward the coach for putting what he believed were in the best interests of the Patriots first.
"I think he has a lot of loyalty," Brady said of Belichick. "He and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody's ever been privy to, nor should they be. So many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me. I'm not going to respond to every rumor or assumption that's made. Other than what his responsibility as coach is to try to get the best player for the team not only in the short term but in the long term as well. So, what I can control is trying to be the best I can be in both of those situations also. So, I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes had experienced. I got to a point where I was an older athlete, and he started to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is. I don't fault him for that. That's what he should be doing. That's what any coach should be doing. Not that I would ever coach, but if I'm ever in a position of authority, I would understand that, too. I recognize that, and we talked about it."
Despite questions about his play last season, Brady made it clear that he has no intention of ending his career anytime soon.
"I could sit here and go, well stop playing football so I could worry about what's going to happen, or worry about this or that, instead of just saying why don't I live my life the way that I want to enjoy it," he said. "The ways that are going to be most fulfilling to me, which for me is doing what I love to do. You don't tell a musician, stop singing at the age of 42. You don't tell a great painter, stop painting at 42. Now, if you want to stop, stop, go ahead. But for me, because I feel like I can still play doesn't mean I should stop playing because that's what everyone is telling me to do."
Brady will enter his age-43 season in a new city with a new team and a new coach for the first time in his career in an attempt to paint a new chapter in his life. And the world will be watching closely.