TAMPA, Fla. -- While he may have a brand-new three-year deal in hand worth $60 million ($40 million guaranteed), Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin described the past few weeks as a "whirlwind" of emotions.
Godwin was dealing with the uncertainty his NFL future -- trying to heal a torn ACL and MCL, which had been surgically repaired -- while set to become an unrestricted free agent. And, after the Bucs lost the NFC divisional playoff game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Tom Brady announced that he was retiring.
"It was a definitely a whirlwind of emotions. It was a lot of uncertainty at different points and sometimes it leaves you questioning just like why things happen," Godwin said Monday, adding that he felt like he could have done something to change the Bucs' fate, as Brady was left with almost no receivers by the postseason. "But you can't control what happens to you. You can just control your personal response to it and how you choose to go about it."
Brady was gone for 40 days and naturally, a big part of Godwin's decision hinged on who would be throwing him the ball next. Things started to clear up when the Bucs placed the franchise tag on him March 8, meaning he'd be back in Tampa no matter what. It served as a placeholder until a long-term deal would get finalized, which Godwin's agent, Tory Dandy, and the Bucs had been working on but had not yet completed.
But things really started to crystalize when Godwin got a text message on March 13 from Brady in a group chat with wide receiver Mike Evans. In it, Brady said, "Yo...just letting y'all know...I'm coming back and I'm excited for another year.'"
Godwin was in disbelief.
"Me and Mike were so gassed up, like, 'Yo, what are you talking about? You just retired?!" Godwin said. "It's hard to walk away from the game when you're as dedicated as Tom is."
Brady made his decision to return public about 20 minutes later in posts on Twitter and Instagram.
Godwin then signed his new contract on March 16, a move that saved the Bucs $14 million in salary cap space by lowering his 2022 salary-cap hit from $19 million to $5 million thanks to void years on the deal. Now the Bucs have both of their Pro Bowl wide receivers locked up until 2024 and Brady for at least another year.
It coincided with the return of Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen and cornerback Carlton Davis, as well as the signing of Brady's former New England Patriots teammate who was most recently with the New York Giants, Logan Ryan, and the trade for Patriots guard Shaq Mason, who was with Brady for five seasons.
"This last week has been a whirlwind for a lot of people," Godwin said. "I think it just restores faith in the Bucs' fan base. 'We're back, man, and we're not laying down for nobody. We're coming back to try to make it to the top of the mountain, and you need great players and great people to do that, and obviously Tom coming back was a huge piece."
General manager Jason Licht experienced some of those emotions but maintained a sense of peace, despite not having many options outside of Brady. Kyle Trask, whom the Bucs selected in the second round of last year's NFL draft but was primarily relegated to scout team duties last year, was next in line. He said at the NFL combine, last-minute, that they'd "leave a light on" for Brady, just in case.
"In this business, you have to be ready to expect the unexpected, but you also have to have plans either way," Licht said Monday. "There was nothing I could do about it at that point. We had a lot of faith in thinking that he might change his mind and come back, but we had to have plans either way.
"Now when he decided he was going to unretire and we had several conversations -- myself and Bruce was a major part of that -- there was a sense that it could happen but didn't have any definites until later on ... I had talked to him and Bruce and knew that he was going to put a statement out. It was a great day."
How did Licht feel when he got that phone call?
"A sense of relief. We were all excited," Licht said. "I think probably the same as anybody, any fan here has, and any person on the staff here. We're all excited. Why wouldn't you be?"
As far as Godwin, the new deal represents the final check mark on a list of dreams he told his then-sweetheart and now wife, Mariah, when they were 13: To get drafted in the NFL, to win a Super Bowl and to earn a second contract.
"For me to be a child and to kind of see these things and to kind of dream these things and for them to all come to fruition is pretty surreal," Godwin said. "I'm still processing [it], but it's crazy -- to have a vision, to put the time in, to put the work in, for things to go the right way -- I've met some incredible people along the way that have helped and poured into me. For me to be here -- it's a testament to what hard work can do for you, what being a good person does for you. Hopefully I can be someone that someone like myself, when I was a kid, looked up to -- hopefully I can be that someone for someone else."
Mariah told Godwin in a heartfelt Instagram post, "If your younger self could see you, he'd be in awe. You did it."
"That is a fact, man," Godwin said. "It's a testament to hard work, dedication, being a good person -- all that, those things matter. Those are the things I'm most proud of."