After months of tormenting speculation, otherwise dubbed as “Bradygate,” Patriots fans and football fans alike have the answer they’ve been fearfully anticipating. Tom Brady is ending his near 20-season tenure with the New England Patriots in favor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While this is not the first time that a prolific professional athlete has ended a long-term relationship with a franchise, Brady is the only quarterback in the NFL to have played for a single team for 20 seasons. Out of all positions, only two NFL players top Brady for consecutive seasons played with one franchise, kicker/outside tackle Lou Groza for the Cleveland Browns and kicker Jason Hanson for the Detroit Lions. Groza and Hanson played for their respective teams for 21 seasons.
The biggest question looming for fans and critics is: how will this change impact 42-year-old Brady and his legacy? Echoes of hall of fame quarterback Joe Montana are hard to ignore as Montana spent 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993. During his tenure with the 49ers, Montana had a record-shattering career totaling four Super Bowl Championships and three Super Bowl MVPs.
During his first season with the Chiefs, Montana led the team to its first division title in 22 years and to the AFC Championship, where the Chiefs fell to the Bills 30–13. The following season, the Chiefs earned a 9–7 record and a postseason appearance, but the team ended its season with a loss in the wild card round to the Miami Dolphins, who were led by quarterback by Dan Marino (Marino is among the few quarterbacks to stay with a single franchise for 17 seasons). Montana ended his football career following that season, retiring in 1995.
Joe Namath is another quarterback hall of famer who changed teams late in his career. After 12 seasons with the New York Jets, Namath went to the Rams for what would be his final NFL season. With the Jets, Namath claimed the AFL Rookie of the Year title and later led the team to victory in Super Bowl III, where he also claimed the MVP.
In his last few years with the Jets, Namath was plagued with injuries as his years in the league began to take a toll. This did not stop Namath from competing in the legendary matchup against Johnny Unitas and the Colts in 1972, where Namath threw for 496 yards and six touchdowns, defeating the Colts 44–34.
In 1977, Namath moved to the Los Angeles Rams where he earned a 2–1 record in the first three games. In his fourth game as a Ram, Namath was intercepted by the Chicago Bears four times and was subsequently benched for the rest of the season. Namath retired at the end of that season.
The careers of Namath and Montana are analogous to that of Brady, and they may point to possible paths that the former Patriot may follow with the Buccaneers. Will Brady potentially end his career with similar and relative success like Montana and the Chiefs, or sputter to a merciful retirement like Namath? Both Montana and Namath have voiced their opinions on Brady’s departure from the Patriots.
In an interview with the NFL Network in January, Montana suggested that Brady stay with the Patriots to avoid the challenges of leading a new team.
“They still want to see you come in and be the same player and be that loyal to them as you were to the other team you just left,” Montana said. “So, it’s not easy [for] guys looking at that change, especially at the quarterback position.”
Namath was more empathetic in his interview with the Los Angeles Times, as he recalled his emotional turmoil when leaving the Jets.
“For me, I felt very sad, very awkward about leaving the people in the city, the people in New York, the fans, the guys I made buddies with throughout the years,” Namath told the Times.
Namath credited his relationship with head coach Chuck Knox as the most important factor in his transition to the Rams.
“We maintained a relationship through the years, and it was important,” Namath said. “If it hadn’t been for Chuck being there — maybe sort of like Bruce Arians being in Tampa Bay — I’m not sure I would have gone. The relationship I had with Chuck was huge.”
It seems like the biggest challenge ahead for Brady will be the transition to an entirely novel team and all that entails, from the coaching staff to the nutritionist. Brady has signed a two-year, $50 million contract with the Bucs, in which the quarterback famed for his leadership and infallible focus made just one request: the phone numbers of all of his new teammates.
If transitioning to a new team is one of the biggest challenges a quarterback can face, then, in typical fashion, Brady is off to a good and early start.