Tom Brady is a free agent for the first time in his career and announced Tuesday he will not return to New England. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Tom Brady, who transformed himself from an NFL draft afterthought into an all-time quarterbacking great during two dynastic decades with the New England Patriots, announced Tuesday that he would be leaving the team.

He wasted no time finding his next NFL home. Brady was set to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a person familiar with the negotiations saying Tuesday evening it was “looking promising” that Brady would complete a deal with that team worth at least $30 million per season. That person later said an agreement “essentially” was in place. The signing cannot be official until 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the NFL’s free-agent market officially opens.

Brady, 42, said via social media Tuesday morning he would make his exit from New England after teaming with Patriots Coach Bill Belichick for six Super Bowl victories. He wrote on Twitter that “it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career.”

He added that he didn’t know what his “football future holds.” Brady, a free agent for the first time, suggested he would continue playing rather than retire, saying his “football journey will take place elsewhere.”

The Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers were believed to have made contract offers to Brady worth $30 million per season or more, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations. But Brady apparently wanted to keep his family on the East Coast, and the Chargers were said by early Tuesday evening to have resigned themselves to losing the bidding. The Buccaneers were thought to be selling Brady on the prospect of playing for their well-regarded head coach, Bruce Arians.

Brady faces a potentially difficult transition, changing teams for the first time in the NFL during an offseason in which normal routines have been interrupted by coronavirus-related issues. The league has postponed teams’ offseason workouts indefinitely, potentially affecting Brady’s ability to adapt to Arians’ offense and to his new teammates. But by passing up the Chargers’ offer, he does avoid the daunting competitive task of playing in the same division – the AFC West – with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.

It was a jarring day for the football-watching world, which first had to digest the news of Brady’s departure from the Patriots. The team’s owner, Robert Kraft, said he met Monday night with Brady at the quarterback’s behest. That meeting took place at Kraft’s home, he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“I got a contact from Tommy last night, and he told me that he wanted to see me,” Kraft said. “I was hoping we could do a deal. He came over. We had an amiable, loving conversation. He told me that he wanted to move on. I had given him that freedom. He earned that over 20 years and all that he has done. I figured he deserved that.”

Brady worked out a contract extension with the Patriots last offseason that voided following the 2019 season.

“It was a very good discussion,” Kraft said. “I love him like a son. I’m very sad. I wish it were right for him to stay here. I’ve known him for half his life. I told him that. I watched him come here as a kid with peach fuzz, and he told me that he’d be the best decision I ever made. I think he just wanted to move on.”

Kraft said he did not believe Brady’s decision to leave the Patriots was based on financial considerations.

“The important thing is I still love him like a son,” Kraft said. “It makes me sad, but he’s earned the right to do what he wants. It’s not what I hoped for.”

Brady joined the Patriots as the 199th player chosen in the 2000 draft, a sixth-round pick out of Michigan. He leaves them after establishing himself as a pop-culture icon and, arguably, the most accomplished quarterback in history.

“Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom,” Belichick said in a statement. “He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.”

The relationship between Brady and Belichick was reported to have been strained at times in recent years, and some in and around the organization thought Kraft’s intervention and mediation preserved the pairing beyond when it otherwise would have unraveled. But the coach and quarterback shared a ruthless level of competitiveness and made the Patriots a relentlessly dominant team in an era of parity.

The legacy is complicated, with the Patriots having been punished by the NFL in the Spygate scandal (for improperly videotaping opponents’ coaching signals) and Brady having been suspended by the league in the Deflategate saga (for his role in a scheme, in the NFL’s view, to improperly under-inflate footballs).

But the team’s supporters dismiss talk of the championships being tainted as being rooted in jealousy, and no one can dispute that the Patriots’ on-field results were unrivaled. With Brady, the Patriots reached the playoffs 17 times and made nine Super Bowl appearances.

“Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation,” Belichick said. “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.”

Brady replaces Jameis Winston at quarterback in Tampa. He resisted the lure of the L.A. market. With the Chargers, he would have taken over for their longtime quarterback, Philip Rivers, who agreed Tuesday to a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and Las Vegas Raiders also had been linked to Brady earlier in the process. But the Titans struck a four-year, $118 million deal to re-sign quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Raiders reached an agreement with free agent Marcus Mariota to go with holdover starter Derek Carr. The 49ers reached last season’s Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, formerly Brady’s backup in New England, and reportedly decided against chasing Brady this offseason.

Even late Monday night, some executives with other NFL teams thought the league’s decision to postpone teams’ offseason programs might affect Brady’s deliberations and lead him to work things out with Kraft and Belichick to stay with the Patriots. They were wrong.

Brady’s farewell to New England came in two notes posted on his Twitter account.

“I wanted to say thank you to all of the incredible fans and Patriots supporters,” he wrote. “(Massachusetts) 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.”

Brady said the Patriots “set a great standard in pro sports” and will continue to do so.

“Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments,” he wrote of his Patriots teammates. “I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to know each and everyone of you, and to have the memories we’ve created together.”

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