The NFL free agency circus is always a wild ride. No matter how many big names actually move to a new team, it’s always fun to watch things get switched up on us. Typically when a quarterback enters free agency, it’s a backup looking for a team who is in need of a starter. However, this year's free agent market has arguably the biggest catch ever.
It was reported yesterday, Tom Brady might just have played his last snap as a New England Patriot.
This rumor has been floating around the NFL ever since the Pats got bounced by the Titans in the first round of the playoffs. Brady is entering his 21st season in the NFL, all of which were played in the navy and red. With six Super Bowl rings on his fingers, it seems nearly impossible for Brady to play anywhere else in his career. He turns 43 right before the 2020 regular season will begin. Playing until the age of 43 is far longer than most non-kickers could ever dream of lasting.
Brady will go down as the greatest to ever play because of his longevity and the feats he’s accomplished during his time. Despite his old age, a handful of teams are clamoring to sign him. It’s uncertain whether or not Brady will finish his career with the Patriots. But as a fan of a team who has lived in the Patriots’ shadow for most of my life, I know the Pats will remain the same evil empire even if Brady leaves.
The only proof I need to support my claim is the 2008 season. Brady goes down in the first quarter of the first game of the season. He’d go on to miss the entire rest of the year. It would be the only the second season in the Brady era the Pats would fail to miss the playoffs. Their record that year? A humble 11-5. Take a moment to reflect on those facts. No Brady, no playoffs, 11-5 record. 2008 was a down year for the Pats. Not reaching the playoffs isn’t a great ending, but without the franchise quarterback, the team still only lost five games.
The Patriots team we could see this season without Brady is a totally different team than the one we saw in 2008. Keep in mind, this past NFL season was halfway through and analysts and fans alike were claiming the 2019 Patriots could end up as a better team than the 2007 Patriots, the team who finished the regular season undefeated. A little premature of a conjecture because after starting 8-0, the Pats finished 4-4 and lost to Tennessee in the first round. Brady seemed like he had lost a stop and Father Time was finally catching up.
The one constant for the Patriots last season was their defense. In 2008, the last time New England played a season without Brady, the defense was pretty much middle of the pack in every major statistical category. Nothing special. Around that time it was Brady who carried the team. Now it’s the defense and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, who carried Brady.
In 2016 when the Patriots had to start the first four games of the season without Brady because of the punishment he was serving for Deflategate, the Pats went 3-1 in his absence. One of the quarterbacks who subbed in was none other than Jimmy Garoppolo, who just took his new team, the San Francisco 49ers, to the Super Bowl.
If Brady does leave, whoever ends up with the tall task of filling in his shoes won’t have much to worry about. The Steelers had a similar season last year to what the Patriots could face next year. Lacking its franchise quarterback, but a strong defense to keep things even. The only difference: the head coach. I am a big Mike Tomlin fan. Throughout the years when fans called for the team to get rid of him, I always stood by his side and defended him. As much as I love Tomlin, he doesn’t come close to someone in particular. This whole time we’ve been talking about Brady and the defenses he’s played with, we’ve neglected the biggest asset he’s ever had — Bill Belichick.
Big Bill has been with Brady for the whole ride in New England. Brady has his six rings as the quarterback, and Belichick has his six rings as the head coach. The duo has remained the most feared two-headed monster in all of sports since the turn of the century. But Belichick is even more frightening when you consider exactly everything he does for the franchise. Not only is he an incredible coach, he’s been the de facto general manager his entire time spent with the team. Belichick fought team owner, Robert Kraft, when Jimmy G was looking to move on from New England to secure himself a starting job elsewhere. Belichick knew what he had in the young talent, but the owner got in the way and told Belichick to make the trade. Belichick knows how to work the free agent field as well as he knows how to manage the game. Without Brady, the team’s GM will simply do as he always has and find the next guy up.
When analysts and fans quickly want to crown Brady as the greatest of all time to play the game, they should act faster to crown Belichick as the greatest to ever coach the game. Over the years, when both Brady and Belichick were comfortably in New England and not going anywhere anytime soon, there were theorists guessing which of the duo was more important to the franchise. Now we’ll finally learn the answer to the question if Brady and Belichick make their split at long last. If they do, I know I’ll be worrying about the team Brady leaves behind a lot more than the team he’ll join.
Jacob Recht is a producer for ESPN Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @jakeyrecht
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