By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Tom Brady. Perhaps you've heard of him? He's been quarterbacking the Patriots since N'Keal Harry was in preschool. Won a whole slew of Super Bowls. Maybe the best fella to ever sling the ol' pigskin, if you know what I mean.
Anyhoo, the guy is in the news this week, on account of his entering a contract year for the first time in his NFL career. Despite the fact that there are no reports of discord or acrimony behind the scenes, and despite the fact that everybody plugged in to the matter seems to believe the quarterback and the team will agree to some sort of extension this summer, it's nevertheless notable that as it stands now, Brady will be taking the practice fields at training camp without any contractual job certainty beyond the upcoming season.
Is it a big deal? Probably not. To everybody outside of the blood relatives of Brian Hoyer, Jared Stidham and Danny Etling, the Patriots don't appear to have a succession plan in place at the moment. If you'd like, you could subscribe to the "Bill Belichick is waiting for the 49ers to release Jimmy Garoppolo next year before bringing him back to Foxboro" conspiracy theory. That would -- objectively speaking -- be an awesome two-hand reverse jam executed by the greatest coach/championship architect the sport has ever seen. But, considering it depends on another team cutting ties with the man coronated as the face of the franchise just 17 months ago, it feeeeeeels like an unlikely future.
Still, despite Brady being the best quarterback in NFL history (yes, we're dropping the "arguably" from the equation, fight me), it remains possible that the Patriots are wary of dedicating any money to Brady beyond the 2019 season. Specifically, Belichick and Nick Caserio (if he's still allowed to weigh in on such matters after the famed flirtation from the Texans this offseason) may be looking at Brady as a modern marvel of athletic achievement who nevertheless has to have an expiration date at some point.
Consider that at age 39, Brady defied history and authored the greatest season ever for a quarterback of that age. (He had a 67.4 completion percentage along with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. What?! He posted a 112.2 passer rating, the second-best such mark of his Hall of Fame career, behind only his 117.2 rating from the historic 2007 season. Then he went ahead and led the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time. DECENT SEASON.)
At age 39, Brady was up against some heavy hitters. Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Warren Moon, Len Dawson and Sonny Jurgensen all played at age 39.
A year later, Brady had stiff competition from Favre, but he nevertheless put together the best season ever for an age 40 quarterback. Brady's regular-season numbers were comparable to Favre's from 2009, but Brady's postseason numbers (1,132 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs) blew Favre's out of the water. Tom Brady: Best 40-year-old quarterback ever.
Then came 2018. Last year. Brady was 41. In order to put together the best season ever for a 41-year-old quarterback, Brady didn't have to do much. Really, only Favre, Moon and Vinny Testaverde even tried to play the position at age 41. In order to create an achievable bar for 41-year-old quarterbacks, one had to assemble a Frankenstein's monster of sorts, cherry-picking the best stats from those aforementioned quarterbacks. And of course, Brady went ahead and had the best age 41 season ever, culminating with a preposterous sixth Super Bowl victory.
All of which brings us to the current day. (Went with the bold there to wake you up from that stroll down memory lane.)
Brady will turn 42 on Aug. 3. Here's the complete history of quarterbacks who started at least one NFL game at quarterback at that age.
WARREN MOON, 1998*
145-for-258 (56.2 percent completion rate)
6.3 yards per attempt
11 TDs, 8 INTs
76.6 passer rating
10 games, 10 starts
VINNY TESTAVERDE, 2005
7.3 yards per attempt
1 TD, 6 INTs
59.4 passer rating
6 games, 4 starts
DOUG FLUTIE, 2004
7.3 yards per attempt
1 TD, 0 INT
85.0 passer rating
2 games, 1 start
*Moon turned 42 in November of the 1998 season. Testaverde turned 42 in November of the 2005 season. Flutie turned 42 in October of 2004. As previously mentioned, Brady will turn 42 before the season begins.
And ... that ... is ... it.
If Brady were to hit any of those numbers, it would be considered quite disastrous, obviously. But, given what we all witnessed a year ago, it feels safe to say that -- barring injury -- Brady will once again shatter NFL history by putting the best age 42 season on record. Even if he falls off the infamous cliff, he could manage that.
But, if we're talking contract in 2020 and (perhaps) beyond here, then we should also look at quarterbacks who played at age 43. The list is, naturally, even thinner.
--Warren Moon threw three passes as a 43-year-old, and 34 passes as a 44-year-old, and that was it for him.
--Vinny Testaverde went 2-for-3 as a 43-year-old. He did start five games for Carolina as a 44-year-old, and he was quite bad. He threw five touchdowns and six picks while steering the Panthers to a 2-4 record.
--Doug Flutie threw 10 passes as a 43-year-old for the Patriots, and he had a totally sweet dropkick that has somehow become a part of New England football lore. That 2005 season would be his last in the NFL.
--Steve DeBerg came out of a five-year retirement in 1998 to play eight games (starting one) for the Falcons; he went 30-for-59 for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. In the only game he started, his Falcons lost 28-3. (Falcons. 28-3. Classic. Gotta love it.) DeBerg went 9-for-20 for 117 yards, no touchdowns and one interception while taking three sacks. A spry 38-year-old Testaverde, coincidentally, was the winning quarterback for the opposing Jets that day.
And that right there is your entire comprehensive history of NFL quarterbacks older than 42 years old. To say it is not extensive is akin to saying Vince Wilfork is larger than the average human.
It's sensible, then, that the Patriots may be gunshy about committing a significant chunk of their salary cap space in 2020 to a quarterback who's 43 years old. A sport as violent and unpredictable as football has, after all, proven to not be particularly accommodating to men of a certain age.
While, yes, Brady has done what has seemingly been impossible for four straight years, and while yes, he's as flexible as Gumby on a 90-degree day, and while yes he still looked physically capable of playing quarterback during his Super Bowl-winning season a year ago ... the man is still human. Humans have limits. Brady has broken through some perceived limits for years now, but he will at some point be unable to do so.
Will that date come in 2019? 2020? Can Brady push it off to 2022, as he's stated many times as his goal? Only your local psychic can know for sure.
But, as we all sit here in July of 2019 wondering exactly what the Patriots might be thinking with regard to the contract status of the single most important player in franchise history, it's fair to surmise that the uncharted territory of quarterbacks thriving at age 42, 43 and older has to at least be giving the organization some pause when it comes to committing any salary for future seasons.
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