What Tom Brady's Age Says About His Potential

What do other quarterbacks in the late stages of their career suggest about Brady's future?

Tom Brady is in decline. And really, there’s not much evidence statistically or anecdotally to prove otherwise.

We've already looked at the New England quarterback's production in an article written not long ago by our own Joe Redemann, showing that Brady's Net Expected Points (NEP) totals have dropped to look more like the pre-2007 version of himself. But we've yet to dig deep into Brady's age, which is something also very intriguing regarding his decline.

Brady has long been on the wrong side of the quarterback age curve, which Chase Stuart of Football Perspective suggests sees quarterbacks significantly start to drop off after age 33. Brady will be 37 years old during the 2014 season, so he’s already made himself an outlier just by playing at a high level up to that age. Even as his play dropped off at age 36, as Joe's article shows, he still wasn't that bad.

And looking at past quarterbacks since 2000 that have had at least 200 pass attempts at both age 36 and age 37, there’s hope Brady can figure out a change in his approach and still be successful.

YearQuarterbackPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop BackPass Success Rate
2001R. Gannon98.290.1752.43%
2002R. Gannon133.120.255.5%
2005B. Favre-4.00-0.0148.26%
2006B. Favre10.870.0244.01%
2008K. Collins46.010.1145.86%
2009K. Collins-23.48-0.1143.44%
2007K. Warner49.470.150%
2008K. Warner116.970.1953.04%
2011M. Hasselbeck16.780.0345.25%
2012M. Hasselbeck-21.62-0.0944.44%
2012P. Manning164.880.2754.3%
2013P. Manning278.520.4157.31%

First line for a player represents his age-36 season, while the second represents his age-37 season.

Admittedly that’s a small sample, but that tends to happen when attempting to find a group of players contributing this far past their perceived primes. The chart also confirms Peyton Manning is an alien robot sent to Earth to take over our football games and television commercials.

To no surprise, the two quarterbacks to not improve at age 37 were Hasselbeck and Collins, quarterbacks five and six in talent level of that group. The top four quarterbacks were able to improve upon their age 36 play, though the way each quarterback got to that point differs greatly. Warner was backing up Matt Leinart in Arizona before he led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008, and Manning sat out 2011 after neck surgery (but again he might not be human).

While they’re two very different quarterbacks, the late career path of Brett Favre could be an interesting comparison for Brady at this stage. From ages 35 to 36, Favre had a bigger drop in overall Total NEP than Brady, from 121.62 in 2004 to -4.33 in 2005. His 2005 performance led the Green Bay Packers to draft Aaron Rodgers in the first round as their quarterback of the future. At that point, the same conversations we’re having about Brady right now were being had about Favre and the imminent end of his career.

Favre only improved to a Total NEP of 11.13 the next year, which in today's game isn't even top-20 worthy, but he had two seasons during the rest of his career with a Total NEP above 100, at ages 38 and 40. Of course, neither one of those seasons came as a member of the Packers, as the decision was made in Green Bay to move on with Rodgers as the starter. Luckily for Brady, newcomer Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't drafted as high as Rodgers, so any rejuvenation from Brady will likely come in a Patriots uniform.

In essence, 2013 may not be indicative of true talent Brady, but peak Brady is definitely far behind him. There’s certainly hope he can play better in 2014 after finding some unfavorable circumstances last year.

When you get to this age and are still a starter in the league, something's gone right in your career. And the other top quarterbacks that have faced the same situation over the past decade and a half have found a way to adjust their game and still play at a high level for a few more seasons; all six of those players also played at least at age 38.

There’s no debate whether or not Brady is still the quarterback he once was - things aren't the same, and that's natural for a 37-year-old passer. But there’s still some hope for the quarterback he can be.