It’s easy to see why Tom Brady retired from playing professional football.
He is 45 years old, for starters. A 45-year-old man, no matter how many leafy greens he consumed, is going to eventually reach a point where getting walloped by hulking super-athletes 20 years younger isn’t much fun anymore.
Reading between the lines, both with Brady’s retirement announcement Wednesday and the reporting that followed, the greatest football player to ever walk the earth is tired. More than two decades of maniacal preparation has finally caught up to him, almost certainly compounded by a tumultuous season away from the gridiron that took its toll.
In a vacuum, a 45-year-old divorced dad who lost millions in a Ponzi scheme retiring from professional football is hardly a surprise. But it was still kind of surprising to see Brady make that announcement Wednesday morning. That’s in part because we’re so conditioned to just having him in our football lives, but it’s also because he still seemed to have something left in that avocado-fueled tank.
Brady’s 2022 campaign was fine albeit unremarkable by his own lofty standards. That it wasn’t horrendous, at his age, is perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay to him. He certainly didn’t suck, which means he actually outplayed a pledge he made eight years ago about his playing future.
“I love playing for this team, and I love representing this team and hopefully I can do that for as long as I can. When I suck, I’ll retire,” Brady told WEEI during his then-weekly radio appearance ahead of the 2014 season.
He then added: “But I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.”
He played 142 regular-season games after making that comment, winning 103. He posted a quarterback rating of 98.9. He threw 290 touchdown passes — 15 more than Joe Montana threw for his entire career. He played 23 more playoff games in that run, one more than Aaron Rodgers has for his entire career.
Most importantly: He won four Super Bowls! Not counting Brady, only 33 players in the history of the entire league who have won four Super Bowls, and Brady did it on his own after turning 37.
For good measure, he also won an MVP in 2017.
Which, OK, yeah. He didn’t suck in all of those seasons, so he kept playing. But what about 2022? It certainly didn’t go how Brady planned bot from a team standpoint or individually. The Bucs won just eight games. It quite literally was the worst team season of Brady’s career, approached only by the 2002 season, the only non-injury season his team failed to notch double-digit wins.
His 25 touchdowns were the fewest he threw since 2013, the season that inspired not only the first real stretch of retirement questions but also led the Patriots to drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Yet, he still was among the best quarterbacks in the league, or at least in the top half. The 1.2% interception rate was his lowest since leading the league in 2015 and 2016. His 66.8% completion percentage was still higher than his career mark and the third-best single-season mark of his entire career. He ranked 15th in EPA per play, right behind Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert and two spots ahead of Kirk Cousins. He graded out as the eighth-best starting QB by Pro Football Focus grading. Only Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes had more “big-time throws,” and his 2.6% turnover-worthy play percentage was tied for seventh.
“I just think he’s missing a reliable possession guy and a good check-down running back,” a defensive coach told Pro Football Focus in November. Tampa Bay’s run game is also atrocious. They put too much on his shoulders to win games at 45 years old.”
Or, as another coach told PFF, “Brady still looks like himself.”
In the right situation, Brady almost certainly would have had a competitive 2023 campaign somewhere.
Is he still eite? Probably not. Does he suck? Definitely not.
It’s easy to see why Tom Brady no longer wanted to play professional football anymore, especially with nothing left to prove. But his personal level of play certainly couldn’t have been the top reason, at least not by any metric than perhaps Brady’s own.