Tom Brady is entering his 18th season the NFL and if we don’t look at his 2000 season as a back-up or his 2008 season on the injured reserve, Brady is hopefully going to play in his 16th season as a starter.
The 2017 season should mark the start of the third and final act of Tom Brady’s career. The first and second acts are nicely separated by his torn ACL in the 2008 season. I’ll propose that his final act be marked as “Post-DeflateGate” with his return from suspension and subsequent Super Bowl LI victory burying that ridiculous storyline for good.
The acts aren’t necessarily divided by a change in play; Brady’s immortal 2007 season is the end of the first act as he ascends to the top of the league. His second act is his plateau as he mastered the offensive game as the top quarterback in the league. He played 17 postseason games in each of the first two acts.
His final act could have more Lombardis and more All Pro teams and more MVPs, but with Brady himself targeting the age of 45, it makes sense to draw a line- and to see if he can put together a third Hall of Fame caliber career.
Act I: 2000-08
Brady started 111 regular season games, going 87-24, including a 16-0 regular season. He added 17 postseason starts, going 14-3 with three Super Bowl titles and a fourth appearance. Brady led five teams to the AFC Championship game, was named First Team All Pro and regular season MVP in 2007 and Second Team in 2005.
Statistically Brady was solid, but not otherworldly until 2007. In Act I, Brady had a passer rating of 92.9, which would rank him 13th all time. He completed 63.0% of his passes (16th all time), threw a touchdown on 5.4% of his passes (25th all time), and an interception on 2.4% of his passes (13th all time).
He was undeniably a great quarterback and a Hall of Famer, but he was firmly in the “most successful quarterback, but not the best” category. Any quarterback that wins three Super Bowls along with a few MVP awards (regular- and post-season) is going to reach the Hall and Brady’s 2007 was a statement season.
But 2007 made everyone pause and wonder what Brady could accomplish with an elite receiving cast and the disappointment of 2008 robbed us of a decisive answer.
At least for a couple years.
Act II: 2009-16
Brady started 124 regular season games going 96-28 and 11-6 in the postseason. He went 2-1 in Super Bowls and has reached six straight AFC Championship games. He was named First Team All Pro and the league’s first and only unanimous MVP in 2010 and was Second Team All Pro in 2016.
It was during this act that Brady solidified his place as more than just a lucky quarterback on a great team; Brady’s volume and rates during these eight years would have him considered for the Hall of Fame. His 7.53 adjusted yards per attempt and his 1.4% interception rate would both rank first all time. His passer rating of 100.6 and yards per game of 283.4 would both rank second. His completion rate of 64.4% would rank 10th. He produced 259 touchdown passes (18th all time) and 35,136 passing yards (26th all time).
Curiously, Brady’s playoff passer rating only increased from 88.0 to 89.9 from Act I to Act II. Still, two Super Bowl titles, six conference title games, another few MVP awards (regular- and post-season) and elite statistical production would make Act II Brady a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Act III: 2017-
In Act I, Brady was in the conversation with Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. In Act II, he is right there with Steve Young. What does Brady have in store for his final act?
Maybe he could have a Kurt Warner-esque finish with two or three more seasons as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, like his 2015 and 2016 years, followed by another two or three as a to 10 quarterback. If Brady can reach or win another couple Super Bowls (is that a flippant statement?) with those five or six additional seasons, then he will have effectively finished his career like Warner.
Is that possible? I don’t see why not (yeah, that’s really flippant), especially if Rob Gronkowski remains healthy, the team finds a reliable receiver to replace Julian Edelman (who I doubt can play for six more years), and the defense remains competitive.
Brady is certainly in the end-game for his career, but that doesn’t mean the decline has to start just yet. If there’s any player in league history that can piece together a Hall of Fame-caliber stretch in their final years in the league, it’s Brady.