No player in New England Patriots history has appeared in more games than Tom Brady, who wore the franchise’s uniform for a combined 326 regular season and playoff games. And yet, there is a chance that the future Hall of Famer finishes his career elsewhere: Brady is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March, after all, and if the team and his camp fail to reach a new deal before that he might depart after 20 years and six championships.
The 42-year-old would not be the first legendary quarterback to change teams at the back-end of his career. Johnny Unitas played for the San Diego Chargers, Joe Namath for the Los Angeles Rams, and Peyton Manning for the Denver Broncos. And even Brady’s favorite player ended his career not with the team that originally drafted him: Joe Montana, who left the San Francisco 49ers in 1993 after helping the organization win four Super Bowls.
The circumstances were of course different — Brady is on his way to become a free agent, Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs after two injury-filled seasons cost him his starting spot in San Francisco — but the outcome would be the same in case the Patriots’ long-time quarterback left: he would have to adapt to another club and city, and try to add to his already legendary résumé away from the only pro football team he had ever known.
Montana knows what such a transition feels like, and he recently spoke with NFL Network’s Mike Silver about moving from one organization to another late in a career: “It’s not easy to go to another team and get accepted, no matter how much success you’ve had and how many years you’ve played. They still want to see you come in and be the same player and be that loyal to them as you were to the other team you just left.”
“It’s not easy (for) guys looking at that change, especially at the quarterback position,” continued Montana before advising Brady to remain with the Patriots. Don’t [leave New England] if you don’t have to. It’s a process to go through, and it takes time to get used to the team. I was fortunate because Paul Hackett was there running the offense, and so I was pretty familiar with probably three-quarters of the offense going in.”
“If they let him have his own offense, yeah, that makes it a little bit easier. But still, the transition of moving... I just can’t see how they would let him leave there, myself,” added Montana. He himself found some success in Kansas City and until the arrival of Patrick Mahomes was the closest the team had come to fielding a true franchise quarterback, even though his tenure lasted for only two seasons before his retirement from pro football.
But despite leading the Chiefs to a 17-8 regular season record and two playoff births, Montana was unable to duplicate the success he had in San Francisco when he was named to six All-Pro teams and seven Pro Bowls. Would Brady, a long-time fan of Montana from back when he played with the 49ers, face a similar fate? That’s the question, but one that will never get a true answer if he follows his idol’s advice and stays in New England.