The Los Angeles Rams sent three draft picks, including two first-rounders, to Detroit so they could replace a quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl 25 months ago with a presumptive upgrade who is seven years his elder.
Then there was footage from last weekend of 42-year-old Drew Brees pushing a heavy sled in an offseason workout, which isn’t the kind of thing required if he was planning on retiring and becoming a broadcaster.
Tom Brady entered the NFL in 2000. He has won seven Super Bowls and appeared in 10 total. Other than creating a unique training system that may prove revolutionary in prolonging playing careers into the 40s, he isn’t known for a groundbreaking style of play or offensive wrinkle. He’s just really good.
His impact on the league is mostly through winning.
Well, until now.
The NFL quarterback carousel is spinning like perhaps never before and Brady’s fingerprints are everywhere. Just consider the trends.
Plugging a QB into an established contender with the expectations of a Super Bowl?
Brady’s move from New England to Tampa Bay, where he took a 7-9 team and handed it a Vince Lombardi Trophy, has turned the NFL into some kind of fantasy football league.
Russell Wilson to Dallas or New Orleans? Dak Prescott to Seattle? Deshaun Watson to anywhere? Teams acquiring elite talent isn’t a new concept — it’s basically the foundation of sports. Yet in football, instantaneous results weren’t always expected, especially at the quarterback position. System and chemistry were considerations. Moves didn’t always bear immediate fruit. It’s why the midseason trade deadline rarely yielded much action, unlike the NBA or MLB.
Doing what the Rams did, trading away a good 26-year-old quarterback such as Jared Goff to take a more talented (but still unproven in big games) Matthew Stafford wasn’t always typical. Caution almost always prevailed.
To hand over so many future assets to do it? That’s a bold kind of play that is, at least a little, Brady-influenced. Teams appear to be valuing 1-3 year windows of Super Bowl contention over 10-12 years of consistent play at the most important position on the field.
If Stafford does for L.A. what Brady did for Tampa, then going for broke makes all the sense in the world.
Making the QB a de facto member of the front office?
Brady didn’t enjoy such a luxury in New England, where he won six of his Super Bowls. When Tampa Bay got him though, the Bucs were open to the opinions of the league’s most proven winner.
Brady’s preferred signings included former teammates Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, plus running back Leonard Fournette. They were added pieces to an already potent offense. When each scored a touchdown (Gronk had two) in the Super Bowl, Brady’s decisions hit pay dirt.
Watching from the stands on Super Sunday was Wilson, who reportedly wondered why the Seahawks didn’t take his opinions into account. He hasn’t demanded a trade, but is reportedly open to select teams — Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas and New Orleans. Wilson isn’t Brady, but he’s certainly the franchise in Seattle. You can understand his position.
Watson’s issues with Houston run deeper, but clearly the franchise’s decision to choose front office and coaching recommendations this offseason were the straw that broke him. After all, he was happy enough with the Texans in September to agree to a four-year contract extension.
QBs across the league are looking at ownership and management and seeking partnerships similar to what Brady has with the Bucs. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been afraid to make noise along these lines, although the concept he might move on from Green Bay this year was just speculative.
The money is so big in the NFL these days, that more and more veterans are staying in the game to win, not merely to earn. If there isn’t a clear path to do that, then why bother?
So if Tampa Bay trusts Tom Brady that much, why can’t other teams trust their superstars at least a little?
Maybe it's not time to retire
Then there is the aging generation of quarterbacks who, rather than quickly retire, seem to still believe their best days are ahead of them.
We’ll see if Brees was just getting a good workout last weekend or preparing for another season (in New Orleans or elsewhere). And we’ll see what decision Alex Smith, soon to be 37 and coming off a leg injury that would have ended most careers, will still push to be a starter next season when Washington releases him this offseason.
Maybe this is the end for both. Or not.
Brady has redefined age. He’ll be 44 before the start of the 2021 season. His stated goal of playing until 45 — scoffed at half a decade ago — seems plausible now.
Quarterbacks are almost naturally confident and competitive.
They see one of their peers find the perfect landing spot, with a franchise seeking their knowledge, not just their ability, and they are motivated to do the same.
It’s resulted in an offseason of quarterback moves and more quarterback speculation. Tom Brady isn’t going anywhere this year, but he’s impacted the league like perhaps never before.
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