If you're a Patriots fan, you've probably read lots of articles about New England Patriots QB Tom Brady. One thing he's been asked, especially as he gets older, is how long he plans to keep playing. His answer's actually been fairly consistent, as he pointed out to Peter King in an interview in May 2012:
"My wife [Gisele Bundchen] said to me, 'When I met you [in 2006], you said you wanted to play 10 more years. How come that number never goes down?' It's that I love the game. I love the game. I'm going to play until they tell me they don't want me anymore.''
Things still haven't changed for Brady; as reported by the Boston Globe, Brady told Men's Health magazine that he could see himself playing at age 50: "I would love it. If I think I can do it, then I probably will."
Obviously, as Patriots fans are well aware, there are no guarantees. But, for the sake of argument, let's take Brady at his word: let's assume that Brady's body holds up well enough that he can play until he turns 50—and let's also assume that the Kraft family decides that he will stay in New England and retire a Patriot. What would that mean for the Patriots and their fans?
1. Brady's only starting the "back nine" of his career. Brady turned 36 earlier this month, and is in his 14th season in the NFL, all of them with New England. That means that Brady still has another 14 seasons left in his career.
Assuming Brady averages just 14 games a year for the remainder of his career, that would be a grand total of 373 regular season games. That's 33 more games, and two more seasons, than Hall of Famer George Blanda, who leads all Hall of Famers with 340. (And, by the way, Blanda was primarily a kicker who moonlighted at quarterback!)
2. Brady might outlast most of this year's starting QBs. Only a dozen QBs have had 100 or more pass attempts in 15 different seasons. Fewer than 50 have done it in even 12 seasons. So it's unlikely that more than a handful of the quarterbacks who take snaps this year will still be starting in 2027.
3. Brady might also outlast every player currently on the team— It's hard to believe, but there are only a handful of players on the team other than Brady—Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Gostkowski—who were on the 2007 team that went 16–0. That was just six years ago.
Now imagine how many players currently on the team would still be there 14 years from now. It's hard to see even young players like Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski being in the league that long, let alone with the Patriots. About the only players who have any realistic chance of playing that long are Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko (who might not even be on the roster this year, let alone in 2027).
4. —and Bill Belichick, too. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick turned 61 in April. That means when Brady turns 50, Belichick will be 75. Predicting what Bill Belichick will do is a fool's errand. Heck, no one outside of the Patriots front office even knows how much Bill Belichick makes or how long his contract runs. That said, it's not at all inconceivable to think that he would retire before the 2027 season.
5. Brady would threaten most major NFL records for quarterbacks. In his 11 regular seasons as a starter (not counting 2000 or 2008), Brady's completed 3,798 passes for 44,806 yards, and 334 touchdowns. All of those numbers already rank in the top 10 all-time. Assuming he could maintain just 75% of his pace of the last four years over the next 14, his stat line would be 7,728 completions for 93,001 yards and 694 touchdowns. To put things in perspective, Brett Favre, the current record holder in all three categories has 6,300 completions for 71,838 yards and 508 touchdowns.
And that's not even getting into his playoff statistics, where Brady already holds the quarterback records for most career games won (17).
6. Brady would need to keep winning the QB competition. Brady hasn't had to face any real competition at the position since he became the starter in 2001. Only one quarterback the Patriots have had since trading away Drew Bledsoe has posed any threat to Brady as a starter: Ryan Mallett. Even here, the money is literally on Brady's side: his latest contract extension runs through 2017, while Mallett is a free agent after the 2014 season. Barring a Brady injury or phenomenal development from Mallett, the odds of Mallett becoming the full-time starter in New England are remote.
This won't always be the case. The Patriots want to contend for a championship every year. That means having a quarterback in whom they have confidence backing up Brady. And that means they will need to have a steady stream of backups. If Brady wants to start in 2027, he'll have to keep beating every single one of them.
One thing that works in his favor here is Brady's game. He's a pocket passer who relies on his ability to read defenses. As long as he can do that, it'll be hard for a young QB to beat him out.
7. Brady will have to keep signing affordable contracts. As Tom Brady's father told ESPN, as soon as Belichick finds a "quarterback who is better for a dollar less, [Brady]'ll be gone."
The best way for Brady to do that is to keep signing below-market deals, like his most recent one. Fortunately, he can afford to do that, since his wife is the breadwinner in the family.
8. Brady's health would become a growing concern for Patriots fans. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, "Time waits for no man." The body's reaction speed and healing ability undoubtedly diminish over time. Until and unless the NFL becomes a flag football league, quarterbacks will take hits. And, as Brady ages, the hits will accumulate—and fans will have to start wondering "How many more hits can he take?" Similarly, Brady will have to decide if the physical toll of game day is still worth it.
(As an interesting side note, the NFL's emphasis on concussions and brain injuries might actually help Brady in this goal, rather than hurt it, as it seems quite likely the NFL will need to modify the game further to protect players.)
All in all, is it likely Brady will still be playing when he's 50? Probably not. But would I actually bet money against Brady? Absolutely not.
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