Tom Brady retires again. Ever get the feeling you’re being played for a fool?

The Buccaneers quarterback says, no, really, this time he means it.

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Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady says he’s retiring.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is saying goodbye to football — again.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Yeah, I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying that Tom Brady is retiring for good, as he announced Wednesday morning. Not buying that this retirement from the Buccaneers is any different than the last one, which came exactly a year ago and lasted 40 days. Not buying that the 49ers will have a starting quarterback in 2023 other than Brady — unless he jumps out of the broadcast booth at midseason to save the day for San Francisco. Or maybe he’ll decide to save the day for the Raiders. So many options for a man whose playing career is over.

No, really. He means it this time.

What else are we supposed to think? He loves football and the limelight in equal measure, and the measure is massive. Here’s what to think: This guy has more retirements in him than a janitor has keys.

Elite athletes need whatever it is that sports give them. Competition. Fulfillment. Fame. Self-worth. Wealth. Eventually, though, their bodies tell them what their minds can’t accept, that it’s time to move on.

With Brady, it’s the other way around. Like clockwork this time of year, his mind starts telling him it’s time to quit. Now he’s 45. He has three children he might want to get to know better without the demands of an NFL career pressing in on him. He has other interests he wants to pursue, including a career in TV broadcasting. A movie he produced and acted in, “80 for Brady,’’ comes out Friday. But his body still responds on a football field the way it did 10 years ago. It’s telling him he can add a few more Super Bowl titles to the seven he already has. Maybe another Super Bowl MVP award because five aren’t nearly enough.

When he took to Twitter to announce his decision via video, it sounded right and true and sincere. Because it always sounds that way.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press ‘record’ and let you guys know first,” he said. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year, so really thank you guys so much to every single one of you for supporting me.”

There has been some speculation that Brady actually recorded the video earlier than Wednesday morning. Others have asked whether the retirement announcement was timed with the debut of “80 for Brady’’ in mind. But that would suggest he’s nothing but a huckster moving product. And who would ever think that?

The 40 days his previous retirement lasted were his temptation in the desert, and he caved. There was so much more to accomplish, he said. So why will this time be different? He still plays football at a high level. He still loves being in the public eye. A career as a TV analyst addresses only half that itch.

Some people can’t let go. Some people can’t let go because they’ve chained themselves to a certain life and all that comes with it. Everything that Brady has done — the 23-year football career, the endorsements, the self-help book and much, much more — puts him in the latter group.

He’s been blessed with the rarest combination in sports, talent and longevity. There’s no reason to begrudge him his desire to keep playing. If he joins the 49ers, he’ll win another Super Bowl. That extremely talented team would have beaten the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday had Brady, not an injured Brock Purdy, been the quarterback. But his constant presence in our lives, the way he thrusts himself upon us even though no one remembers asking him to, has gotten old, even if he hasn’t.

This looks like a retirement that isn’t. This looks like a guy who loves watching social media burn. This looks like a guy holding a book of matches.

He and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are cut from the same insecurity blanket. Their futures have been the subject of intense speculation, partly because they’ve each talked publicly about it so much. It’s looked suspiciously like a PR strategy. The Rodgers saga continues. Will he retire? Will he stay with the Packers? Will the Packers trade him? Stay tuned — please, he’s begging you.

At least Brady has decided to give us all a break.

Or has he?

In May, Fox signed him to a 10-year, $375 million contract to be their lead color commentator when he’s done playing. If there isn’t a clause to make him pay back his salary should he jump back to the NFL, it means a lot of lawyers didn’t pay attention to Brady’s need for attention.


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