Thanks to the folks at ESPN, the slowest month on the NFL calendar has been partially filled by the latest twist to the ongoing question of how long Tom Brady will continue to play quarterback, for the Patriots or someone else.
As framed, the question is whether Brady continues to be one of the best five quarterbacks in the NFL.
It depends in large part on the other quarterbacks in the discussion. In no particular order, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers are regarded by many as the best three quarterbacks currently in the league. Veterans with viable claims of varying degrees include, in no particular order, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethslisberger, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Ryan. (Two years after his second Super Bowl win, the jury suddenly is out on Eli Manning.) Young players deemed to be approaching the league’s elite are Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, and maybe Robert Griffin III.
So where is Brady? The question of whether he’s currently one of the best five overlooks the more important question of whether he’s the same guy who won three Super Bowls in the first five years of his NFL career. While the chicken-and-egg notion that he lacks the same weapons as other star quarterbacks gives Brady a pass for some, Brady won those Super Bowls without Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
Stats and accomplishments (or lack thereof) aside, the truth remains that Welker’s notorious “drop” in Super Bowl XLVI came on a pass that wasn’t delivered accurately. Throw it between the “8″ and the “3″ and Brady has a claim nearly on par with Joe Montana for the title of best ever. The ball wasn’t as accurate as, say, a pass from Montana to Jerry Rice would have been.
Then there’s the reality that, in the 2013 AFC title game, the Broncos opted to take away LeGarrette Blount and to force Brady to beat them through the air. If Brady truly is a top-five quarterback, would anyone opt to neutralize a journeyman tailback in a single-elimination and to dare the top-five quarterback to deliver timely, accurate passes in a single-elimination setting?
Brady didn’t, on multiple occasions. Which contributes to the idea that he isn’t as good as he used to be.
Even if he’s still in the top five, Brady inevitably won’t be, if he plays (as he reportedly intends) until he’s 43. The real question becomes how low he’ll tolerate sliding on the overall quarterback pecking order in order to keep playing. In theory, he could play until he’s 50 and still be better than some of the quarterbacks who will start games this year. But does he want to play so badly that he’s willing to play badly, in comparison to how he used to play?
While pondering that one, let us know whether you think he’s still in the top five.