FOXBOROUGH — The question has become a rite of the offseason around Gillette Stadium — Josh McDaniels getting asked about working with Tom Brady for another season, and whether the quarterback has the same passion for playing football now that he’s “X” years old and is entering his “Xth” season.
“And I say the same thing for the last 10 springs,” McDaniels said with a chuckle Thursday before the Patriots held an offseason practice. Brady is “the same. Very consistent, great condition, works very hard, great attitude, comes out prepared every single day, has done a great job of taking care of his body and being ready to go into the spring.
“He’s the same person. I haven’t seen anything change in that regard, and I wouldn’t expect it to.”
Brady is 39 now, entering his 18th NFL season, and doesn’t have much left to prove. He has the most Super Bowl rings of any quarterback in league history, hundreds of millions in the bank, and after engineering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, he has secured his legacy as the GOAT.
So it’s admirable to see him participating in a voluntary practice in late May, a smile flashing across his face as the rain and wind whipped across the practice fields.
Brady earned $215 for the workout, the same pay given to rookies nearly half his age, and he acted as if he were just one of 90 guys. When Bill Belichick had the players dive across the slick grass to work on ball security, Brady flopped onto the soaking wet turf and recovered a fumble, just like everyone else.
Brady reiterated 11 days ago that he wants to play into his mid 40s, “and naturally that means around 45,” he told ESPN. Bouncing from station to station at practice Thursday, Brady looked as invigorated as ever.
“My love for the sport will never go away,” Brady said in that interview. “I don’t think at 45 it will go away.”
But there’s a nagging thought that Brady, who turns 40 in August, doesn’t really expect to make it to 45 — that all this talk about playing several more years is just his way of setting us up for a surprise retirement next spring, or the spring after that. There is plenty of evidence, and you don’t have to look too hard for it.
For one thing, Jimmy Garoppolo is still with the Patriots, if you hadn’t noticed. They refused to trade him this offseason, even though his contract expires next March.
“He’s not a rookie; he’s so far removed from that now,” McDaniels said of Garoppolo, entering his fourth NFL season. “He’s a guy that has had a lot of experience in our system, on the practice field, in the meeting room. Got an opportunity to play some snaps last year that were meaningful to him and his development.”
The Patriots have invested a lot of time into Garoppolo, and don’t seem like they want to farm him out to another team. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Thursday that “they are going to figure out a way one way or another to keep him there.”
Like any competitor, Garoppolo wants to play, so the only way he’d willingly return to New England is if he believes he has a reasonable shot to get on the field. He and Brady share the same agent, so Garoppolo will have all the intel he needs to make his decision.
But for every day that Garoppolo remains on the Patriots, the questions about him replacing Brady will intensify. And the Patriots’ refusal to give up on Garoppolo implies that they view him as Brady’s successor.
It’s also hard not to notice that Brady has ramped up his off-field branding this year, even by his standards. Within the last two weeks, he has revealed new mega-sponsorships with Aston Martin and EA Sports as the Madden NFL 18 cover star. On Thursday, Under Armour announced that Brady will make a six-day trip in late June to Beijing, Shanghai, and Japan to spread the word of football, training, and athlete recovery. And it seems like we can’t go a week without Brady introducing a new snack, boxed meal, or cookbook on his TB12 website.
Clearly, Brady already has one eye on the future.
Finally, there’s the matter of his wife and family. This goes back to Brady having nothing left to prove.
The day after winning his fifth Super Bowl, Brady said, “If it was up to my wife, she would have me retire today. She told me that last night three times.”
She also said on national TV last week that he suffers concussions — plural. Brady wasn’t available to the media Thursday, and his agent said last week that he wasn’t diagnosed with any concussions last year, but common sense dictates that Brady has suffered several minor concussions throughout his 17-year NFL career.
From Gisele Bundchen’s perspective, why does Brady need to keep banging his head out on the field each Sunday? Her husband has already won everything there is to be won, has earned hundreds of millions of dollars, has his health, has a lucrative future ahead as a model and spokesman, and, most importantly, has a beautiful wife and two young children at home (three in all) to grow old with.
In February after the Super Bowl, Brady’s response to his wife was lighthearted but forceful.
“I said, ‘Too bad, babe, I’m having too much fun right now,’ ” he said.
But his tone changed a bit with ESPN. Brady said Gisele supports his decision to play longer, but he acknowledged that he can’t just think about himself.
“She makes decisions for our family that I’ve got to deal with. Hopefully she never says, ‘Look, this has to be it,’ ” he said. “My wife and my kids, it’s a big investment of their time and energy, too. My kids have grown up faster than I thought.”
So when we see an almost-40-year-old quarterback get fired up for a May practice in 54-degree rain, we’re not quite sure what we’re watching.
It could be Brady showing why he’s one of the greatest competitors in sports history, who simply loves the game and loves practicing with his teammates.
Or it could be Brady savoring the moments, knowing they might not last as long as he had originally hoped.