Count me in the camp that was never really that worried about Tom Brady’s contract extension. I am WELL aware that matters of money, if left unsettled, can simmer and get ugly. But I just never felt that the actors involved would let it get close to that far. Was Bob Kraft really going to make an example of Brady? Were the Pats really going to hide behind the uncertainty of a new CBA forever? Was Brady going to let this thing get in the way of the season? Call me naïve, but I answered “no,” “no” and “hardly” to those three questions when I was tested back in July.
So Brady is now inked through 2014 for about four million more than Josh Beckett, and if that isn’t enough evidence to sway a two-sport HS athlete away from football and toward baseball, than I don’t know what to say. Moreover, Brady also becomes the highest paid player in the game, at least for the time being, and this cures the injustice of having Eli Manning walk around with that distinction. So in that respect, Tom wins and the NFL wins.
With number twelve locked down for the next five years, the big question to ponder in New England is can the Patriots still win with this guy and sneak in another Super Bowl championship during the Brady Era?
I am a bit less sanguine than most New England fans on this issue. On the one hand, I still have plenty of faith in Brady and I am comforted by advanced stats (defense-adjusted yards above replacement – Football Outsiders) that say Brady was the best in all of football a year ago. Even if those numbers are only directionally correct, they are encouraging. And don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade Brady straight up for anyone.
That said, Brady slipped some last season. Plays that he routinely made in the past were flubbed. Crunch time suddenly was littered with mistakes. And by my count, three games were lost because Brady couldn’t’ put the game away ( Denver, Miami and Indy). Yes, others played a role in these outcomes but number twelve certainly bears some responsibility. And my concern is that these mistakes were not some rust-related anomaly that will go away now that we are two years removed from Brady’s injury. Instead, I worrythat red zone picks and strip-sacks on game winning drives are no longer just problems for the other guys.
The way I see it, the Brady from 2009 is good enough to lead a team to a Super Bowl. And he could probably take another step down and still be fine in this area. But with Brady at “this” level or a step lower, the team must be better. And whether that improvement comes before the window shuts on Brady is the big question. After all, the roster is in the midst of a pretty radical turnover so it’s difficult to predict how things will play out. Next year’s draft – with four picks in the top 60 and two numbers ones – should help further, but it may take a little time for all this to come together. And when it does come together, will Brady still be sharp enough to win a championship?
My hunch is the answer is yes so long as we are talking about 2011 and 2012. But my gut tells me that Brady’s window shuts after 2012, which will be his age-35 season. After that, all bets off. Sure, he could be another Favre or Testaverde. And if the drafts of 2009-11 hit big, the Pats might not need a ton from Brady. But just as easily, those drafts will turn out to be mediocre and Brady might hit a wall. So my fingers are crossed that Brady can win one of these next three and cement his legacy before that window becomes an issue.