Saturday, May 21, 2022

Patriots’ Brandon Bolden thinks Tom Brady could return before 2022 NFL season, talks Bill Belichick’s future

Less than a week after announcing his retirement from the NFL, Tom Brady left the door open for a future comeback. And one of his longtime Patriots teammates fully believes there’s a chance the legendary quarterback will return. Speaking with CBS Sports on Wednesday, running back Brandon Bolden said he was “very happy” that the 44-year-old Brady decided to experience life away from football, but added that he “wouldn’t be surprised if, come July, he’s trying to get into someone’s camp.”

“I was — I don’t wanna say bummed out — when he retired, but I was like, ‘Dang,’ because I wanted to see how far he could set the bar,” says Bolden, who spent seven seasons as Brady’s teammate in New England. “(But) I’d probably put the percentage of a comeback above 50, because you can just never rule out Tom Brady.”

Brady, of course, remains under contract with the Buccaneers, so unless Tampa Bay releases him this offseason, any return to the NFL would be with his new team. But Bolden, who’s won two Super Bowls in New England and just posted career highs in receiving (41 catches and 405 yards) this year, is plenty comfortable with the Patriots’ current setup. The first day he met QB Mac Jones, the rookie introduced himself to Bolden as if the latter didn’t already know who he was. Bolden said Brady did the same thing back in 2012, when Bolden first joined the Pats as an undrafted rookie, and the two have more similarities than that.

“With Mac, I don’t think he has a ceiling, and if he does, it’s nowhere in sight,” Bolden says. “He did very well this year. He exceeded a lot of expectations. I told him, ‘You’re gonna be something special,’ and I had never seen him throw the ball, because he was that prepared, learning the playbook. The only thing he was missing was experience.”

Bolden, who is set to hit free agency in March, would prefer to return to the Patriots, where he knows the system and has an established reserve role. (He’s only spent time with one other team, the Dolphins, in 2018). That’s partly because of Jones’ presence. It’s also because he knows coach Bill Belichick isn’t even close to pulling a Brady and hanging it up.

“With Bill, there’s no telling how long he’s gonna go,” Bolden says. “Darth Vader was around for a long time. Just being around Bill so much, I know even when he’s done, he’s gonna be in someone’s office or booth somewhere. I know he’s in it for good, because we joked about it all year.”

Bolden has his own case for sticking with the Patriots, too. At 31, he posted a career-high 631 total yards — more than offensive staples like Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor and fellow running back James White, who suffered an injury in September. Off the field, he’s been a model of the team’s locker room, battling skin cancer that first surfaced in 2018, sitting out 2020 due to COVID-19 and this year switching his jersey number from No. 38 to No. 25 to pay tribute to his grandfather Frank Pitts, a former Chiefs, Browns and Raiders running back who won Super Bowl V.

“Without him, I don’t think I’d be playing the game,” Bolden said. “When I got to the Patriots, I was given 38, and I didn’t make much of a fuss about it. But my grandfather wore 25, and he was recently diagnosed with dementia and CTE, and I never want him to remember me playing football and not seeing his number, so I invited him over after I switched, with my grandma and aunts and uncles, and we surprised him with a jersey. It was folded up, but you could see the 25, and the first thing he says is: ‘Why is my jersey red?'”

To this day, Bolden said, he also fights to stay cancer-free. He’s come a long way since his first diagnosis, which he admits brought him “shame more than anything else,” but he still relies on a “team of people” for emotional support. (“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” he adds, “and I’m still that child in that village.”) And yet he has no plans of ending his own football career anytime soon, saying his 2020 break helped recharge his body and that he hopes to play another three to five years in the NFL — hopefully with the Patriots and, if not, maybe, just maybe, with Brady.

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