Well, it happened… Tom Brady, the forty-three year old quarterback, was able to win yet another Super Bowl, and this time without the coaching efforts of Bill Belichick. For even those that despise the man, he is beginning to prove just how great of an athlete he is with few signs of slowing down. However, athletes cannot play forever. NFL athletes particularly have short careers, and quarterbacks sometimes have the smallest. And while Tom Brady has plans to keep his career running, it is clear that it must come to an end at some point. Like Brett Favre or Peyton Manning, quarterbacks of the early 00’s will one day all pass into history. But this brings up the question, how is this prolonged? How can a team which desires to keep the athletic talent and mind of someone like Tom Brady ensure another year of their player, or better yet- many more seasons. Well for one possible solution to this question, we must first look at a different American sport: Major League Baseball.
In the olden days of baseball, it was the norm that each team had one pitcher per game. As the years progressed, teams began switching pitchers with a player in another position (let’s say the pitcher would move to right field and the right fielder would become the pitcher). But as more time went along, substitutions began to become more normal with the best starting pitchers coming in to finish the game on their days off. In the 80’s, closing pitchers began to be more prominent. As starting pitchers aged, they would become closing pitchers to make their careers last a bit longer. And by the 90’s this was the norm. It is how players like Dennis Eckersley were able to add another spark to their careers as they aged. In modern baseball, closing pitching has become a position all its own, with players training in high school just to be closing pitchers. Why this digression about baseball pitchers? Well let’s translate this history to modern day American football.
Tom Brady is one of the best, if not the best, fourth quarter quarterbacks of all time. He knows how to run the clock perfectly, and has pulled off last second victories multiple times throughout his career. So as he becomes older and is unable to play a full game, why not save him for the final quarter? Why not begin a new era of starting quarterbacks and closing quarterbacks. Picture this: for the first three quarters a new, young, quarterback leads the charge for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then for the final fifteen minutes, out comes Tom Brady who is able to either redeem or solidify the win for the Bucs. In this scenario, Brady does not tire out, he does not get hit as much, and he is able to save his arm for when it is needed the most. And on top of that, he is able to train the next generation of quarterback to be like him. It’s a win-win for Tampa Bay.
Many traditionalists will say something along the lines of, “It’s simply not done.” Well, sure, not to this extent, but teams have been playing around with the idea of two quarterbacks for years- they just haven’t given it a full shot. The Dolphins, for example, in the 2020 season had multiple games where they used both veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as rookie Tua Tagovailoa. And think of the possibilities of the future: signing a running quarterback as well as a throwing quarterback. Changing between the two would cause the opposing defense to be forced to play two different styles of football.
Will this type of roster-building happen soon? Probably not. But the first team that legitimately starts to think like this be the spark that helps the NFL evolve. In a world where we were able to see the rise of Mariano Rivera we could also see the birth of the greatest closing quarterback of all time. And who better to be the first closing quarterback than Tom Brady? How many more seasons could Drew Brees play if he only had to play half of a game? Or even just a quarter? Starting and closing quarterbacks are the way of the future, and NFL coaches should start experimenting with it now while they have the talent to do so.
(Cover Photo: Jack Dempsey/AP)