How much longer can New England Patriots QB Tom Brady play at a high level? Brady turns 40 in August and there are just two seasons in NFL history where a quarterback at age 40 or older have played at a high level: Warren Moon at age 41 and Brett Favre at age 40.
So you can forgive the Patriots for not giving up on a potential franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, when Brady is entering uncharted waters.
The lack of success by quarterbacks over the age of 40 could be a key factor in why the Patriots decided to trade their cost-controlled draft picks for players on veteran deals or in the final years of their rookie contract. One AFC executive believes that the Patriots are capitalizing on Brady’s closing window, according to MMQB’s Albert Breer.
“Well, start with the fact that they certainly got a good player who’s a very good fit for their offense in Brandin Cooks,” said one AFC exec. “But the second part is that, with Brady, there’s a short-term window. So trying to capitalize on that has perhaps an influence on all this. And if that works—and you get back to the Super Bowl—it’s all worth it.”
The Patriots have taken their Super Bowl championship roster and improved it at multiple positions and are going to be in prime position to return in each of the next two seasons. But when Cooks’ contract runs out, and when Brady turns 42 (no quarterback has thrown 300 or more attempts at the age of 42 or older), and when key players like Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung will be well into their 30s, the Patriots might have a major rebuild on their hands.
The Patriots have navigated these struggles before- as Breer notes, “Last year’s championship team had just four of the club’s former first-round picks (Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Malcom Brown) on its final roster.”- and Bill Belichick is the perfect leader to get the team through potentially difficult times. But it’s never an ideal situation to not have cost-effective rookies on the roster.
As for the length of Brady’s window, it doesn’t appear to be closing. He’s improved his completion rate, touchdown rate, interception rate, yards per attempt, and passer rating in each of the past four seasons. Players can fall off cliffs, but Brady hasn’t shown any signs of decline.
Sure, the end of Brady will inevitably come, and the Patriots investment in running backs could point towards an increased reliance on the run game. But I don’t think “short-term window” is the way to describe what’s taking place. I actually view the acquisition of talent less as an approach to the end of Brady’s career, and more about surrounding him with top players while he’s still at his peak, before the window even thinks about closing.
Just ask Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio if Brady’s age is the reason for trading draft picks for proven veterans.
“That has zero to do with it,” Caserio said after the draft.
And that’s good enough for me.