Quarterback Tom Brady says he is leaving the New England Patriots

(Reuters) – Six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday he was leaving the New England Patriots after 20 years in the team to impress fans of the NFL franchise and give the league a dramatic turn in the off-season.

FILE PHOTO: NFL Football – Super Bowl LIII – New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams – Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA – February 3, 2019. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots in action. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / File Photo

With the free agency starting on Wednesday, the 42-year-old quarterback left no doubt in a social media post that he would not return to New England. During his celebrated tenure, he set many NFL records, including most wins and appearances in the Super Bowl and most playoff wins. He won a record four Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophies.

“Although my soccer trip will be somewhere else, I appreciate everything we’ve accomplished and I’m grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments,” Brady wrote in a Twitter post that immediately went viral.

He didn’t go into his plans or next steps in his career. He had previously said that he wanted to continue playing and would probably not retire.

“I was hoping that this day would never come, but that Tom would end his remarkable career in a Patriot uniform after another Super Bowl championship,” said team owner Robert Kraft in a written statement.

“Unfortunately, neither side could reach an agreement to make this dream a reality.”

Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick, who had been one of the NFL’s most enduring and successful partnerships with Brady, said in a written statement that the quarterback was one of the “original creators” of the Patriots program.

“Sometimes it takes time in life to really appreciate something or someone, but that wasn’t the case with Tom,” said Belichick. “He is a special person and the greatest quarterback ever.”

Belichick selected Brady in 2000 with the 199th selection of Michigan NFL design. Brady spent his first season as a substitute and joined the injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 as a starting quarterback. He led the team to the first Super Bowl win at the end of the 2001-2002 season.

Brady also had critics accusing him of cheating in 2015 by ordering Patriots employees to inappropriately reduce the pressure on soccer balls before an NFL playoff game. Brady was eventually suspended four games for the incident, which became known as “deflategate” despite denying misconduct.

Speculation about where he might land next has been rife for months as the Patriots’ last season ended in a humiliating defeat at home against the Miami Dolphins, followed by a loss of shock against the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.

Applicants were reported to include the Los Angeles Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the latter being an early betting favorite.

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; additional reporting from Steve Keating cut by Alex Richardson and David Gregorio

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