Tom Brady is the greatest player in football history. 5 (and counting) Super Bowl rings. 2 MVP’s and 4 Super Bowl MVP’s. 4 all-pro nominations and 12 pro bowl nods. Add to that over 60,000 yards and more than 450 touchdowns, and no player in the history of the NFL matches his combination of personal and team success.
Tom has said he wants to continue playing for a long time, at least “until he’s 45.” He is in peak physical condition, takes painfully good care of himself, and has the savvy to avoid big hits and situations that could lead to major injury. While any athlete at his age could fall off the proverbial “cliff” at any moment and quickly lose their physical ability, Tom Brady is footballs best bet at beating father time. If you listen to and look at him, there is absolutely no reason to believe the end is relatively soon for the greatest Boston athlete ever.
So why am I convinced (and saddened at the thought) that this is his last year? Let’s start with the off-season moves. I resist the notion that the Patriots went “all in” this off-season after signing Stephon Gilmore to a massive deal and trading for Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, and Dwayne Allen. All these players are young, either entering or currently in the prime of their careers, and all have the opportunity to be here well into the future.
There is no denying, however, that these moves were made with an eye on this year. Trading high draft picks (a first for Cooks, a second for Ealy, a fourth for Allen) for established players is a path to improving your team significantly in the short term. These moves are unprecedented for a team coming off of a Super Bowl victory, and they are the extremely heavy favorites to repeat this year. Individually, arguing this as the reason that Brady is in his final year is a bit of a stretch, but can be done. Tying it in to the next point, however, strengthens the argument considerably.
Enter Jimmy Garoppolo. Everyone and their mother knows Garoppolo’s contract situation, so I’ll spare you the details. The fact is that Garoppolo is only guaranteed to be here for one more year, and the cost to keep him next year is likely going to be upwards of $20 million, whether that comes from the franchise tag, or an extension to his current deal.
Ideally, a GM looks at his team not as players, but as numbers, produced by the combination of their contract and the value they provide to the team. Once that number isn’t beneficial to the team, it becomes time to move on. Bill Belichick is the best in the league at doing this, but he also knows how important cohesion in the locker room is. He wants to make sure the players he values most are the top earners at their position on the team.
It’s rare that he brings someone in for more money to take a lesser role than someone already on the team (which is why paying Gilmore and not Malcolm Butler is very notable in how he views each). Knowing these two pieces of information, what’s the likelihood that he’s going to pay his backup QB double that of his best player, more than anyone else on the team?
Not likely at all, yet the team has no shown no indication that they are going to move on from Garoppolo, and still view him as the QB of the future. So, they’re pushing for established veterans for this year, and still planning for their young backup quarterback, who needs to be paid next year, to be their future? Starting to smell like one final ride to me.
The last argument I have is one that is much harder to quantify than the first two. Brady has always been driven to be considered the greatest ever, and he knows that the storyline around one’s career has a lot to do with those discussions. If the Patriots repeat as champions this year, and Brady retires afterwards, it would be a perfect ending to go out on a number of levels.
First of all, he would get to go out on top, after extending his lead on most championships by a QB in history. Additionally, Brady would go out exactly how he came in: champion in three out of four years, winning in back-to-back years to finish off the run. For someone who came out of nowhere to take the league by storm, going out in the same fashion, to push the “greatest of all time” argument out of reach, is too perfect.
An argument could be made that he won’t retire until he’s on the top of all QB records, but I don’t buy it. Brady has always been about team success over personal numbers, so it’s hard for me to believe he would pass up a team success storyline outlined above simply to pad his counting stats. Additionally, Drew Brees is ahead of him both in career passing yards and career passing touchdowns, and is always at or near the top of the league in both categories. To pass Brees, Brady likely needs to play 2 additional season to whenever Brees retires.
While Brady could play to 45, the idea he could sustain this level of success is—at best—optimistic. After seeing what Peyton Manning turned into so quickly, going out while he’s still a top-two quarterback in the league adds to the career narrative—the cliff never came for him.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope we get to see #12 take snaps from the shotgun and call out the MIKE and sneak for the first down on 3rd and 1 for at least the next 3 years. I hope the Patriots win 5 straight Super Bowls starting last year until then. I hope Brady racks up MVP’s and takes over every statistical category and continues to push his status as GOAT further out of reach. My gut is strongly telling me otherwise, however, and I’m going to appreciate his greatness a little bit extra this year, just in case.
Is this Tom Brady’s final year?
This poll is closed
Yes, only if he goes out on top
Yes, no matter how the season plays out