Welcome to the first ever (formal) Rampant Speculation, where we go full-on Mike Florio style, and speculate on something that we have absolutely no idea about whatsoever, purely based on what we think might be logical—despite the obvious fact that little in the NFL seems logical, to “layfolk” like us.
So what has us speculating that 2017 could, in fact, be Tom Brady’s last season playing in the NFL? After all, he seems to be still playing at a high level, having just led his team to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, becoming just the second player in NFL history (after Charles Haley) to win five Super Bowls—the first quarterback, the first to do so all with one team—and the first to win four Super Bowl MVPs (rightfully or not). Statistically, he had another incredible season, with a 28:2 TD to Int ratio (best all time), completed a career second best 67.4% of his passes, and finished the season 11-1.
Add in that he’s on record saying that he would like to play 10 more years (as recently as the week before the Super Bowl), and who even former backup Scott Zolak has said will likely play at least three more years, and what couple we possibly be thinking?
Well, to start, there’s the lede in Florio’s own story—his wife, Giselle, has told him he should walk out on top—and Zolak agrees that if he wins a sixth Super Bowl, he might just do that. The addition of Brandin Cooks & Stephen Gillmore to the Patriots roster would seem to make them the early odds on favorite to do just that—it will be hard to pick against them, no matter what other teams do.
Secondly, while Brady did play incredibly in 2016, there were moments during the Super Bowl—the first extended action of Brady’s that I saw this year—that he looked a little…Peyton Manning-esque. As in 2015 Peyton Manning. As in medium to deep passes looking a bit wobbly, and looking a bit more human as the Falcons pummeled him. One thing that could hurt Brady’s chance for ring number six in 2017—if teams decide that the path to finally toppling the Pats is by physically abusing Brady, no matter the cost. Some teams might be ready to do that, just out of spite.
The final reason for thinking that Brady could be done after 2017—the reason I actually started thinking that there’s a better than zero percent chance—the Patriots appear to be set on not moving Jimmy Garoppolo. After all of the success that Bill Belichick has had in seemingly being clairvoyant in moving players right before they started to decline, or maximizing return on guys who clearly wouldn’t have a role—he suddenly is keeping his young backup quarterback, who after starting the season with a bang in 2016 for the suspended Brady, could easily bring back a high first round pick from a team like the Browns? Garappolo will be a free agent after the 2017 season, at which point you know that a quarterback needy team will back up the armored truck to his house—and you have to assume that Garappolo wants the chance to start.
Not trading Garappolo while at peak value—especially when they stand to get minimal return in 2018 (some sort of compensatory pick)—is an incredibly un-Belichick like move—and one that could have roots in Belichick knowing something that no one else does. If Belichick knows already that 2017 could be Brady’s final season—and has had that conversation with Garappolo in some form—it could be the Patriots themselves that back up the armored truck to his door. After all, it would be ideal to replace Brady with someone who has been in the exact same system for four years, and has shown (albeit in limited experience) that he can perform at a similarly high level? Sure, keeping something like this secret would seemingly be a difficult task—but Belichick and the Patriots seem to be experts at keeping things in house.
And if you’re Garappolo—wouldn’t you relish the chance to start the next phase of your career—as a starting NFL quarterback—running the best franchise in the league, potentially continuing the dynasty run for another 8-10 years?
That should be a scary thought to other NFL Executives—and one that has probably crossed more than just my mind.