Tom Brady will turn 39 in August. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1. With Tom Brady set to turn 39 in three months, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look at what might be a reasonable level of expectation for the quarterback for 2016. By way of comparison, here are five notable performances by 39-year-old signal-callers. (For a complete list of performances from 39-year-old QBs, check out Pro Football Reference here.)
a) Warren Moon: As a 39-year-old with Minnesota in 1995, Moon started all 16 games, completed 62 percent of his passes, threw for 4,228 yards, 33 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a passing rating of 91.5. This stat line represents the numerical pinnacle for 39-year-old quarterbacks across the board (and a pretty good — albeit relative — model for Brady to aim for, given his recent totals), but that Vikings team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
b) Brett Favre: In his return to football with the Jets in 2008, Favre also started all 16 games, completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 3,472 yards, 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, and ended the year with an 81.3 passer rating. That New York team ended the year 9-7 and out of the postseason.
c) Doug Flutie: The Boston College product was the last of the three on our list to start in all 16 games for a San Diego team that started 3-0 but ended 5-11. He completed 56 percent of his passes, threw for 3,464 yards, 15 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 72.
d) Jim Plunkett: The former Patriot was at the tail end of his career with the Raiders in 1986 when he started eight games and threw for 1,986 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a 39-year-old. He finished that year with a 53 percent completion rate and a passer rating of 82.5. It was the last season of his career, and he went 3-5 for a Raiders’ team that finished 8-8.
e) Peyton Manning: Let’s make one thing clear: we’re only including Manning here because he was Brady’s counterpoint for much of the last decade-plus. Of course, Manning’s numbers last year were pretty bad, as he ended with a 60 percent completion rate, 2,249 passing yards, nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a passer rating of 67.9 — arguably the worst regular-season stat line of any Super Bowl-winning QB of all time. But he was the guy left standing at the end with his second ring and a kiss from Papa John that sent him into the sunset.
2. Of course, from a historical perspective, no quarterback is having the run-up to the age of 39 that Brady has enjoyed. His passer rating, completion percentage and touchdowns have all increased the last three seasons, while his interception totals have dropped over the same stretch as he’s led the Patriots to three AFC title games and one Super Bowl win. If there’s anyone capable of bucking the trend, it’s Brady: as long as Alex Guerrero has plenty of avocado ice cream at his disposal and his offensive options remain healthy, the sky is the limit for the quarterback. (Who’s to say what sort of impact Deflategate might have on his production this season.) It’s only to give some sort of statistical context to the challenge facing the quarterback as he continues to prepare for 2016.
3. We hit on one of the Patriots-related aspects to Jason Licht’s interview defending Tampa’s choice to take a kicker in the second round of the draft earlier this week, but as noted here by Rich Hill, there were two other elements of that Q&A worth passing along that might interest New England fans.
One, it’s OK to be bold: “Belichick [wants to take his guy and not be worried about what others think]. I always tell our scouts, ‘If you guys have a first-round grade on a guy the 49ers took and he turns out to be a bust, I’m not worried. I’m not going to judge you on that,’” said the Tampa GM who cut his teeth with the Patriots. “There are so many factors that go into whether that player will be successful or not. It could be the city. It could be the staff. It could be the team. It could be all that stuff. I’m only worried about our picks and how you evaluated the players that we took.”
And two, don’t be afraid to have a short list. Don’t muck up your draft board with a lot of unnecessary names. “I think from Bill, I learned about having a clean draft board without 300 names up there on draft day,” Licht said. “Chipping it down to whom the guys were that we actually wanted, that could actually make our team and help us,” he said. “I remember one year we cleaned the draft board down to just 75 players going into a seven-round draft. Us scouts said, ‘Are we going to have enough players to draft? What’s going to be there in the seventh round?’ We got down to the seventh round and there were two players left out of 75 and it was [wide receiver] David Givens and we took him. He went on to have a pretty good career.”
4. We noted Rob Ninkovich’s pair of impressive streaks here, but it’s also worth noting that two other Pats are among the active leaders at their respective positions when it comes to games played and/or started. Brady is third among all quarterbacks when it comes to consecutive regular-season games played with 112 — he trails Eli Manning at 183 and Philip Rivers at 161. Brady is also third on the list for consecutive regular-season games started at 112 behind Manning’s 183 and Rivers’ 160. (For what it’s worth, it’s believed that a Deflategate ban would knock him off both active lists.) In addition, Stephen Gostkowski is now tied for fifth among all kickers with a streak of 80 straight regular-season games played.
5. One of the things that stood out about our chat with Ian Rapoport of NFL Media this week in the “It Is What It Is” podcast was that Rapoport told us that former Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was basically coaching for his job down the stretch. Instead of DeGuglielmo basically being the fall guy for what happened in the AFC title game, Rapoport told me that “the wheels were sort of in motion before that. I knew he thought he was kind of fighting for his job a few weeks before that.” DeGuglielmo was “feeling the heat and he knew there was a chance he would not be retained” down the stretch, and the biggest takeaway was the fact that it wasn’t a “good mesh of styles.”
As for the return of Dante Scarnecchia, Rapoport said there was a mostly positive reaction around the league to the Patriots decision to re-hire Scarnecchia. “His return is probably treated as it should be because everyone saw what happened when [Scarnecchia] wasn’t there,” Rapoport said. For my complete interview, check out the podcast here.
6. Rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell has only been a member of the Patriots’ franchise for a few weeks, but he’s already impressed many people around Foxboro. Sources at Gillette Stadium have shown him to be free of any sort of pretense, willing to jump right in and get to work alongside his veteran teammates. One thing that distinguished him from other first-year players around the league is the fact that he decided to pass on an invite to this week’s NFLPA Rookie Premiere — and the $12,000 minimum payday that goes with it — to stay home and study his playbook. It’s still wildly early in his career, but Mitchell certainly appears to be hitting all the right notes.
7. Eric Decker should be applauded for showing some feistiness — it would be strange for a competitor to back down from a fight for the division title. And his quote surely played well with the fans in North Jersey. From this perspective, it was the language that seemed a little off. Decker seemed to suggest that “if” Brady was out, it could open the door for the rest of the division. What does that mean if Brady is able to play? Does that shut the door again?
8. Darrelle Revis’ decision to part ways with longtime agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod this past week is really strange. The cornerback, who has not announced who will be repping him going forward, has broken new contractual ground time and again with Schwartz and Feinsod by his side. In nine seasons, he’s worked the system to perfection, maximizing his revenue streams, holding out and gambling on himself, all while managing to make $101 million (per Spotrac.com), a ridiculous amount for a non-quarterback in this day and age. It’s not know what happened behind the scenes to cause the split, but it’s certainly reasonable to speculate that the 30-year-old is looking to make at least one more big splash financially before he calls it a career. It’s debatable if he’ll be able to land one more deal — he just finished the first year of a five-year contract he signed in the offseason. But as the case has always been with the wily corner, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he found a way out of his latest deal and cashed in one more time with a new contract before he walked off.
9. The NFL is heading to Las Vegas, one way or another. More and more owners have started lining up behind the once-ridiculous idea that a city so intimately connected to the world of gambling could play host to an NFL team. (Turns out, as long as they have the kind of public money needed to do the deal, it’s all good.) Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest to add his voice to the chorus. He told USA Today this week that a move to Vegas would be “good for the NFL” if the Raiders can’t get a deal done for a new stadium in Oakland, hinting that the old fears of putting a team in a city like Vegas isn’t the issue that it used to be, primarily because many people gamble online these days. “I came into the league in ’94,” said Kraft. “Back then, any exploration of that market was dismissed out of hand. I’m looking where we are today and thinking of the last 10 to 15 years, and the emergence of new media, with Google and Facebook and the like. We’re just living in a different world, technology wise. The risks in Vegas are no longer exclusive to Vegas.” Expect more Vegas talk this week, as owners are set to meet in Charlotte.
10. We spent plenty of time this week talking about the greatness of Kevin Faulk and what made him a worth member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, but former teammate Ninkovich weighed in with his two cents when we talked to him at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. He didn’t mince words when it came to his thoughts on Faulk, who he played with from 2009 through 2011. “Unbelievable player,” Ninkovich said of Faulk. “I was blessed [to spend] a couple of years with Kevin and [he’s] just a true professional.” One more Faulk note: you should read this piece that popped up on NOLA.com this week where he was part of a roundtable of great LSU running backs for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it details the relationship between Faulk and Belichick over the first couple of years they were together in New England.