Why Tom Brady Faces More Pressure Than Any Other NFL Player in 2013
No, I'm not going to spend any time here asking you to feel sorry for Mr. Brady. He's one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.
That said, Brady didn't become a spokesman for Uggs by accident.
He split time in school with quarterback Drew Henson, a former Gatorade National Player of the Year. As we all know, he was drafted 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft before sitting behind quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
It took plenty of hard work to get where Brady is, but the 2013 season may see him in his most pressure-filled season yet.
Separating Brady from the Pressure-Packed Field
At this point, many of you are suffering what could only be a tiny stroke as you hurriedly rush to the comment section to point out that Brady is a horrible football player, the Patriots are "a bunch of cheaters" and that spelling is a dying art in America.
While the third of those things may be true, many fans will undoubtedly claim the first two in a show of hatred-fueled apoplexy. Some Patriots fans, too, will assuredly take deference to an assertion that the upcoming season will be anything but a cakewalk toward 16-0 and a Super Bowl championship.
So, why Brady?
Others positions were considered, but I quickly settled on quarterback because that's where the buck stops in NFL circles.
One could argue that a player like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Arthur Brown is under a lot of pressure to replace Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. It makes sense that highly paid free agents like running backs Steven Jackson or Reggie Bush have a lot of pressure to prove their worth.
Still, quarterbacks feel pressure not only for their own pursuits and goals but also (ultimately) for their entire team—more so than any other position. It's why they get the big bucks.
As for the the other quarterbacks, Denver Broncos signal-caller Peyton Manning was probably the closest to taking Brady's spot here. The Broncos have poured a lot of capital into the offense the past two offseasons, and Manning needs to lead this team to the Super Bowl if it has hopes of going to one any time soon.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, too, is under plenty of pressure, as the Falcons have given him plenty of weapons with which to attack opposing defenses. Don't pretend like Ryan, his agent and the Falcons aren't spending a lot of time thinking and talking about Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's recent contract during Ryan's current negotiations.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder are all under a lot of pressure to play well this season lest their teams go elsewhere to fill the position next season. That's not even considering the quarterbacks who face competition in camp—New York Jets' Mark Sanchez, Oakland Raiders' Matt Flynn, etc.
With all those players considered, Brady is still under the most pressure.
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Excuse me, diehard Patriots fans, lemme holla at you for a minute.
Doesn't it concern you in the slightest that the last Super Bowl win was in 2005? Brady's last MVP trophy was 2010, as was his last All-Pro honor. His yards-per-attempt in 2012 (7.58) was the lowest it has been since 2008. His passing percentage (63 percent) was as low as any year since 2006.
Doesn't it worry you in the least that his passing numbers—while still being fantastic—are being matched in today's pass-first NFL not only by guys like Manning and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, but also by guys like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and rookies like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson?
This is a league that revolves around the here and now. Please don't try and convince me about Brady's career accomplishments. I agreed when Robert Kraft called Tom Brady a better quarterback than Joe Montana. The question is: Will Brady's career end on a high note?
Now, I don't think Brady is going to pack up shop anytime in the next 12 months, but his retirement might be a lot sooner than it might seem right now.
My colleague Ty Schalter did a fantastic breakdown of NFL positions by age, and he found that quarterbacks peak between 30 and 33 years old. This jives with almost all the other research on the subject. While fans try to pretend that every single quarterback is going to play into his 40s like Brett Favre, that just isn't the case.
When the season starts, Brady will be 36 years old. According to Schalter's research, Brady is in for another dip of production in the next year or two. After that, his career is practically over whether or not he stays on the field.
Ask yourself: If you're Tom Brady—worth hundreds of millions of dollars with a wife who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars—would you keep getting hit on Sunday afternoons? Is it really worth it?
The Patriots' future completely depends upon the way Brady feels every morning from this season to the next. If Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata lands on him the wrong way or if Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson doesn't pan out the way Brady hopes, why continue to subject his body to the kind of punishment that every NFL quarterback receives—even under so-called "Brady rules?"
Again, the question is not whether or not Brady has had a fantastic career—he has. No, the question is, as it always is in today's NFL: Has Brady done anything for us lately? As of right now, the answer is no. He's been great, but he's been overshadowed by plenty of other fantastic quarterbacks.
Only Brady Can Keep This Ship on Course
Let's take a look at Brady's receiving corps this season.
According to Ourlads—one of the best depth-chart sites out there—Michael Jenkins and Danny Amendola currently stand as the Patriots' starting receivers. Jenkins spent last year in Minnesota, and Amendola in St. Louis.
Further down the list, Donald Jones came over from Buffalo. He'll be fighting for No. 3 receiver honors with second-round pick Aaron Dobson—recently drafted out of Marshall. Of course, fourth-round pick Josh Boyce out of TCU will want some snaps as well.
Of the top six receivers on the Patriots depth chart, only Julian Edelman has previous experience catching passes from Brady. Only Edelman has had more than a couple of months of time between being handed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' playbook and being asked to execute it.
That said, talking about the relative talent of some of those players seems pedantic at this stage. No matter how good that receiving corps is, it's going to take some time to gain chemistry and find rhythm.
How many games will the Patriots win in 2013?
Then there are the Patriots tight ends. Rob Gronkowski, who may or may not be healthy for Week 1, started last season alongside Aaron Hernandez, who is no longer a Patriot.
Behind them, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Zach Sudfeld are a pretty talented group. Again, however, that unit runs into the problem that only Fells has played with the Patriots before this year.
To some extent, Brady has to feel like the old guy at the office who can't remember the names of any of his co-workers because they're just a bunch of kids. Consider this: In 1995, Dobson was four years old. That same year, Brady was drafted in the 18th round of the MLB draft as a catcher by the Montreal Expos.
Plan A is that Brady has a fantastic season and leads this team—or drags this team kicking and screaming into the playoffs and wins another championship to cement his legacy.
Plan B could be that the defense picks up the slack, but even though the Patriots have added a lot of talent in recent years, that unit is still a few years away. Plan B could be one of the receivers playing out of his mind and giving Brady someone to simply chuck it up to when things go awry.
No, this is Brady's show. It always has been, and it will be until he hangs up his cleats.
That's a level of pressure not only for Brady to peak one last time before it's too late but to do so under the most difficult of circumstances. He does so not only for himself and for his legacy, but for his teammates who are counting on him.
No other NFL player is under that kind of pressure in 2013. Frankly, no one comes close.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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