Could this be Tom Brady's last year in the NFL?

Yes, Tom Brady is playing as well as he ever has in his storied career. And yes, it feels a tad sacrilegious to even say it. But with the events of this past offseason, it might be time to discuss it: is this finally Tom Brady's last year as a Patriot--or his last year in the NFL?

This conversation resurfaces every year, and there's some reasoning to it at this point. As great as he is, Brady is 40 years old--and Bill Belichick is notoriously ruthless with old players who can't perform up to par. Now obviously that's not the story with the GOAT, but the threat of coach-induced exile always looms on the horizon. Brady has said that he wants to play until he's 45 at least. But with Belichick in Foxborough, he might have to play out the end of his career with another team to keep that promise.

At this juncture, it's more likely that Brady could simply be planning an early retirement. It's well documented that his wife, Gisele Bundchen, told him to retire after Super Bowl LI, but he blew her off. Could he have had a change of heart in the offseason? To wit: Brady has signed a slew of endorsement deals this offseason, and the Patriots have traded away draft assets to provide immediate talent for another Super Bowl run. With sticky contract situations coming up in the next few years, this could be potentially the best Patriots team assembled in the foreseeable future--perfect for giving Brady one more Super Bowl ring and an easy ride off into the sunset.

But beyond on-field talent, there are other factors that could push the QB into an early retirement as well. His health is the most obvious one, especially considering that Bundchen caused a media storm by talking openly about her husband's checkered concussion history. Brady has little left to prove in the NFL now, and going out on top after another Super Bowl championship (a la Peyton Manning) looks far more attractive than bouncing around the league for a few years until injuries or age force him out of the game. Additionally, Jimmy Garoppolo's contract expires after next year, but the Patriots were adamant in refusing trade offers for the promising young signal-caller. At a certain point, the team might decide to move on from Brady in order to pacify Jimmy G and secure the future of the franchise, creating another early-retirement situation.

Brady has said repeatedly that his career isn't close to over, and he may very well be right. But at the same time, almost no position players in NFL history have stuck around until age 45 or later. If there's any time before then for the GOAT to retire, it might be right after another Super Bowl championship--especially if he can go out after having won back-to-back titles. We'll see.

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