Tommy Brady hasn’t changed, even at 43 years old. His thirst for winning in the National Football League is the same despite six Super Bowl rings. Only the venue has changed—from New England to Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers will host the Los Angles Rams tonight on Monday Night Football.
“Anytime you lose, it sucks,” the seemingly ageless quarterback said after last Sunday’s 46-23 victory at Carolina vanquished a lopsided loss the previous week to the division-leading New Orleans Saints. “It sucks for you, for your family, your friends, for everyone who follows you.
“One team wins and one team loses and when you lose, you’ve got to get back on track. There’s no excuses. You just get back to work and try to do better.”
Brady tested free agency for the first time last summer after 20 years with the Patriots, signing a two-year deal with the Buccaneers that guarantees him $50 million and a possibility to reach $59 million with incentives.
Nearing the end of Week 11 during this COVID-marred season, the jury is no longer out on what kind of impact Brady has on a football team. The Patriots are 4-6 after losing to the Texans at Houston Sunday. They are just about done in the AFC East, a division they had dominated for years under Brady to the tune of 11 division titles in a row and 17 out of 20 through 2019.
The Bucs are 7-3 in the NFC South heading into Monday night’s tilt at Raymond James Stadium, just a game behind the 8-2 Saints. New Orleans defeated the Atlanta Falcons at home Sunday without their own marquee QB, Dree Brees, who’s out for a protracted period because of cracked ribs and a collapsed lung.
It’s not impossible to envision that Brady could be running the big show for the 10th time during Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7 in what would amount to a home game in Raymond James.
No one should ever cut Brady short. He’s long outlasted comparable greats at his position like Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Terry Bradshaw, who have 12 rings between them, but were all out of the NFL by the time they were 38.
“Brady’s been sensational,” said NFL agent Leigh Steinberg, whose client list has included such QB greats as Young, Aikman and Warren Moon. “Brady is the role model for how athletes can take advantage of modern nutrition and training techniques and extend their career span.
“The reality with quarterbacks, it’s not as if their arm strength goes away. Every year they play they get better at reading the field. If they don’t hurt their legs they can play for a long time.”
Brady is proof positive, as the numbers thus far this season prove. He’s completed 66% of his passes for 2,793 yards and 23 touchdowns as opposed to just seven interceptions. The completion percentage is above his career mark of 63.9%. And with 564 career touchdowns thrown, he’s one behind the injured Brees for the all-time record, the two playing nip and tuck with each other all season.
In comparison, Cam Newton, who replaced Brady as New England’s quarterback, has thrown for 1,900 yards, four TDs and a Brady-equaling seven interceptions. He has a 4-5 record in his nine starts, missing one game after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Perhaps Bill Belichick was a much better coach when he had Brady at quarterback, as his five losing years and 36-44 record with the Cleveland Browns at the outset of his 26-year coaching career might attest.
“I think that the fact they kept it together as along as they did was the real story,” Steinberg said about the Pats. “No one really knows in terms of emotions and relationship what really went on between Brady and Belichick. Even though Brady thrived, Belichick’s a tough boss to work for.”
Steinberg added that New England’s success in winning nine AFC championships and six Super Bowls from 2001 to 2018 was based on “astute scouting, organizational stability, great coaching and having a system.”
“The system is based on modularity, which means it’s all scheme,” he said. “They’ve been brilliant over the years at plugging in players.”
But this season, there were too many losses. Aside from Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski left New England, only to join Tampa Bay after retiring for a year, and eight other Patriots players opted out because of the pandemic and its protocols.
Under that stress, the system collapsed and Belichick said earlier this month the hard salary cap decimated the roster over time, too.
“I mean, look, we paid Cam Newton a million dollars,” Belichick said during a weekly radio interview. “It’s obvious that we didn’t have any money. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s what we did the last five years. We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth, and played in an AFC Championship game.
“This year, we had less to work with. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact.”
And the hard fact is that the Patriots didn’t have $25 million to pay Brady under the NFL’s salary cap this season without further diminishing the product around him. Brady wasn’t happy about losing his choice receivers and an offensive line that became injury-prone and porous in his final New England season. It was time for everyone to move on, and the Patriots have paid the price.
And that was before COVID had an impact. With 12 teams, including New England, playing home games sans fans in their home stadiums, the cap is expected to drop no lower than $175 million next season. At $25 million, the Patriots wouldn’t have been able to afford Brady next year, either.
“They’ve largely been able to defeat the cycle of triumph, rebuilding and triumph,” Steinberg said. “They’ve done the best job of any team in the NFL of defying everything the cap does to hinder that.
“I’m not a big believer in the salary cap, so I’d agree with Belichick. It’s unnecessary training wheels. The sport doesn’t need it. Under normal circumstances, it’s not having any economic problems.”
Be that as it may, Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa Bay and the balance of power in the NFL has irrevocably shifted. It will be interesting to see, at the least, how this season plays itself out.