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tara sullivan

Tom Brady’s recent candor about the state of the NFL bodes well for his future as a commentator

In the next portion of his career, Tom Brady will have a microphone in front of him.Romain Maurice/Getty

Tom Brady ignited quite the NFL debate when he recently deemed the current game rife with “mediocrity.”

Aside from some cheeky blowback from fellow former quarterback Alex Smith, it’s hard to argue with the seven-time Super Bowl champion. There is a Week 13 schedule that features only three games between teams with winning records and more than enough poor quarterback play in New England and beyond to back up Brady’s claim.

But even if you disagree with him, the notion of Brady making headlines with his commentary is a welcome addition to the football conversation. It was strange enough when the league year opened without Brady on the field for the first time since 1999, and as he entered his first year in retirement still a year away from joining the Fox broadcast booth, it was even odder to think he had no official role in the game.

That will change soon enough, and the good news from these past two weeks is that Brady seems willing to be open, honest, and critical in ways he couldn’t back in his days with Bill Belichick.

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Brady made the initial waves during an interview with Stephen A. Smith, saying, “I think there’s a lot of mediocrity in today’s NFL. I don’t see the excellence that I saw in the past. I think the coaching isn’t as good as it was. I don’t think the development of young players is as good as it was. I don’t think the schemes are as good as they were.

“The rules have allowed a lot of bad habits to get into the actual performance of the game. So I just think the product, in my opinion, is less than what it’s been.”

It was flippant enough to get Smith to bite back, snarkily pointing out just how much Brady benefited from the mediocrity around him, particularly in the AFC East. Cowboys defensive star Micah Parsons also made a good point about Brady benefiting from rules that disproportionately protect offensive players.

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But Brady, who has to know that criticizing others opens the door to them criticizing you, didn’t shrink, instead getting back to the mike for his own “Let’s Go” podcast and expanding on his original thought.

Having retired after the 2022 season, Tom Brady will move to the other side of the microphone in 2024.Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

The comments were insightful and illuminating — just the kind we can’t wait to hear on Sundays.

While the best sound bite came at the end — “It’s way more checkers than it is chess. I tried to play chess. I wanted to have three moves ahead of you at all times” — Brady was at his best with an anecdote from his third career start. With details we never would have gotten during his playing days, Brady talked about the value of time with coaches, the benefit of trust from coaches, and the importance of the ability to read defenses and be decisive with throws.

The game was against the Chargers, and Brady remembered how his offseason work with Belichick and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis set him up for success.

“We were talking about how they were going to max blitz us,” Brady said. “We said, ‘OK, if they max blitz us and they get us in that look, we’ve got to check the protection to a seven-man protection, and let’s get the receiver a shot down the field.’ [They said that] to a second-year quarterback!

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“I was in the system my whole first year. I was being taught by Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis. We had quarterbacks school and the offseason program. We get into overtime after going the full 60 minutes and I recognized they called this all-out blitz. I said, ‘[Expletive] this, I’m changing it.’ I changed the protection, I threw a deep ball to David Patten, pass interference, and we got a 50-yard gain. We win the game on a field goal in overtime.”

With success like that so early in his career, is it any wonder Brady only continued to get better at his own personal chess game, benefiting from having Belichick there the whole time, and the offensive playbook staying largely the same even as coordinators changed?

While he may not be able to change the quick-fix culture of the current NFL, he is absolutely in position to decry how it hurts the development of young players, particularly quarterbacks.

“It’s really hard to build up any of that continuity,” Brady said. “You can never really go deep on the playbook. You can never go deep on situations.”

He could have been talking directly to Mac Jones. Since Josh McDaniels left after Jones’s rookie year, the sophomore combo of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge and this third-year return of Bill O’Brien haven’t been able to get any sort of consistency from Jones. Benched four times already this season and seemingly second on the depth chart now behind Bailey Zappe, Jones wasn’t targeted by Brady, but he fits the bill all the same.

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“The more you can be decisive as a quarterback, the better outcomes you’re going to have, the better your process is going to be,” Brady said. “You want to be really decisive as a quarterback. You want to be really sure of what you’re doing.

“But you need to be sure of the game plan, the protections, who’s responsible for who if they blitz, and where all of the receivers are going. All of that takes time. We’ve got to allow these guys time to develop.

“The pro game is reflecting what the college game is as opposed to the college game reflecting what the pro game is. We’re asking pro players to play college football. That’s the biggest difference I see.”

When Brady finally makes his way into the booth next season — having signed for a reported 10 years and $375 million — count me among those looking forward to hearing more about what he sees.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her @Globe_Tara.