We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we'll take a look at the man that needs no introduction: Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr.
Name: Tom Brady
Jersey number: 12
Size: 6'4, 225 lbs.
2015 review: Tom Brady started his 2015 season in ridiculously effective fashion: in his first eight games, the veteran quarterback completed 68.6% of his passes (225 of 328) for 2709 yards, 22 touchdowns and a mere 2 interceptions. Brady was not only playing at a "best quarterback in the NFL"-level, he was playing at an "all-time great season"-level.
Unfortunately for Brady and the Patriots, week 8 was a turning point of sorts. While the future Hall of Famer posted great numbers in the first half of the season, his production started to decline once the health of New England's offense did the same. With the supporting cast surrounding Brady suffering multiple long- and short-term injuries, the unit became less consistent and was unable to stay in its early season rhythm and duplicate its success later in the year.
Despite the offense's issues, Brady still had one of the best statistical seasons of his 16-year career. He finished the 2015 regular season with 4770 yards, 402 pass completions (on 624 attempts; 64.4%), 36 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Furthermore, Brady added three rushing touchdowns to his resumé.
The start to his 13th playoff run brought back memories of the early regular season, as Brady and his offense were highly effective against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the momentum did not carry over to the AFC Championship Game, as the Patriots' offense struggled against the eventual Super Bowl winning defense – and thus Brady and his team missed their chance to defend the title.
2016 preview: Just like last year, Brady enters the summer with questions about his availability for the first four games of the season. While Judge Richard M. Berman lifted the quarterback's suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate-fiasco last September, allowing Brady to play the entire 2015 season, it has been reinstated in late April.
However, the legal battle to get the suspension overturned is far from over as Brady's lawyers have filed a petition to rehear the case on Monday. If a rehearing is granted, it is likely that Brady will start the season – he could still be forced to sit out four games at a later point during the season, though. If the rehearing is denied, Brady and his legal team will likely ask for a stay, making Brady eligible to play until further notice, while they try to get the case in front of the Supreme Court.
As things stand right now, however, Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season.
Naturally, this has a trickle-down effect on the team and its coaches. After all, in case Brady's suspension won't get reversed again, backup Jimmy Garoppolo will lead the offense in place of the absent starter. This, of course, means that the coaching staff will have to give Garoppolo first team reps over the course of the summer to get him ready. Consequently, Brady, for the first time since taking over as the Patriots' quarterback in 2001, would have to share reps with another quarterback.
Given Brady's experience within the offense and with its most prominent skill position players, the missing reps should not be too big of a challenge for the 16-year veteran. However, Brady still needs to make sure that he gets enough snaps with his core receivers and particularly new acquisitions like Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.
Because one thing seems set in stone: when Brady returns from his suspension, he will resume his starting role. Despite the quarterback not being able to practice with the team and work out at the Patriots' facilities from September 3rd through October 2nd, he is still the unquestioned leader of New England's offense and the player that gives the team the best chance to win.
Once Brady is back on the field after week 4, he and the Patriots' offense should quickly return to being among the league's best. And – who knows? – maybe the four weeks off will pay dividends in the long-run as the soon-to-be 39-year old won't get exposed to hits until one quarter of the 2016 season is already over.
Of course, the court could also grant the rehearing and rule in favor of Brady. If that's the case, we are back to business as usual in Foxboro.
Suspension or not, Tom Brady projects to be one of the best – if not the best – quarterbacks in the NFL. Despite getting up in age, he has shown no signs of slowing down. 2016 should be no different, no matter how many games he will ultimately play.