Arians’ suspicious retirement raises questions

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At one point during Bruce Arians’ news conference capping his farewell as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ head coach, he took one last jab at the conspiracy theory bound to linger beyond the 2022 season. Specifically, the one that put Arians at loggerheads with Tom Brady, allegedly leading to the quarterback’s brief retirement this offseason.

“People got to write s***,” Arians said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

It was an interesting moment because it leans into reinforcing a question that has never been fully answered about Brady. The one that seeks to know why, after less than six weeks, Brady came back out of retirement on March 13. The change of heart occurred despite seemingly nothing tangibly changing with the Buccaneers organization.

The roster certainly wasn’t better. Indeed, it can be argued it was well on its way to getting worse with the retirement of Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ali Marpet, not to mention the handful of free agent losses that were on the horizon. At that particular moment, nothing was different with the coaching staff and front office, nor did it appear headed for any changes whatsoever. As for Brady’s contract, there wasn’t some sweetener suddenly added by ownership or the front office.

The reversal by Brady was … odd.

And it was pretty much completely unanswered.

The NFL’s news cycle was cranking so fast, we never really had time to stop and drill down on Brady’s vague journey of revelation. A brief period of discovery that took him from “I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore” on Feb. 1, to “These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands” on March 13.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers watch from the sidelines during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
What role did Tom Brady play in Bruce Arians’ decision to retire as a head coach? We may never know. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Not for nothing, but it wasn’t even two months. It was five weeks and six days. It was solidly less than two months but still long enough for Brady to revise the biggest decision of his career and return without anything really changing all that much beyond an opaque epiphany. At least not for another 17 days, when something significant changed.

Arians, who had called his allegedly strained relationship with Brady “bulls***,” up and decided it’s the perfect time for him to step aside and hand the reins to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

A sudden change by Arians that supposedly occurred because of Brady’s unretirement, but in a way that is 180 degrees counter to anything previously reported. According to Arians, he’s stepping aside now because he wanted Bowles to coach a team with Brady at the helm — not because Brady wanted to play for a team that didn’t include Arians in the head coaching seat. And Brady supposedly unretired without having any issue with this. Despite all his respect and admiration for Arians, he’s also totally cool if the guy isn’t around on the coaching staff in 2022.

Sure. That makes total sense. There’s nothing wonky about this storyline at all. Nor the fact that it all seemed to come together after Brady met with Buccaneers ownership in London prior to his unretirement.

Lest anyone forget, this change also comes with Arians being put into the team’s ring of honor and “elevating” him to a still-undefined position in the franchise’s administrative layer. And while he’s in that position, a source tells Yahoo Sports that he will earn the same money written into the contract extension he signed only nine months ago. It’s a great payday for those who can just step aside into it.

By the way, this is the same Arians who said in January he was definitely coaching in 2022 and told NFL Network that same month, “I’m coaching until I can’t.” Also the very same Arians who spoke defiantly at the NFL scouting combine in early March about not letting Brady play anywhere else and sounded like he was all-in on next season — even to the point of starting to vet his next suite of quarterback options.

Now he wants to step aside because it’s the right time? More than two weeks into free agency and a couple weeks removed from Brady returning? I guess that’s one way to approach stepping aside. It’s pretty convenient, considering that Arians stepping aside immediately before or after Brady’s unretirement would have stunk to high heaven. Not that it doesn’t now, but at least the extra few weeks gives space to suggest one didn’t force the other.

The simple truth of it? We’ll likely never know exactly what happened here. Not with Brady previously suggesting (or admitting) on HBO’s “The Shop” that he’s a 90 percent liar when it comes to the media. And not with Arians having plenty of incentive to shape his career narrative in a way that avoids any suggestion of having a legitimate beef with arguably the greatest player in NFL history.

Unfortunately, this is a league that regularly spits in the face of the bastardized “duck test” proverb. You know the one: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.” That’s not how the NFL’s manual on controlling narratives is written. Instead, this league’s boilerplate approach to damage control is often something along the lines of “If it looks like a duck, dress it like a chicken and start lying immediately.”

This whole Arians departure feels a lot like that. Maybe it’s just unfortunate timing and circumstance for Arians, making it all look some kind of unflattering way. Maybe Brady and Arians miraculously had epiphanies about their futures, and those revelations just happened to necessitate them parting company despite not wanting to.

However this all really went down, Arians said one thing that’s definitely right: “People got to write s***.”

What he left out is this: Sometimes the s*** that gets written is exactly what it appeared to be all along.

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