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Discussion thread: Tom Brady and the Chargers

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Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With the announcement on Wednesday that Eli Manning is retiring, it feels even more probable, even irrationally, that 2004 draft class and trade-mate Philip Rivers will also be making a huge change in his football career. That change of course being that Rivers will no longer be playing for the Chargers organization. It is of course possible that Rivers returns, but it seems as though both parties are ready for change.

But how much change are the Chargers ready for and would it include getting five years older at the position in 2020?

Of all the vet free agent options, Tom Brady appears to be the one most-talked about when it comes to Los Angeles. Brady is the only starting QB with a longer tenure on his current team than Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. He and the New England Patriots are similarly rumored to be exploring other options for 2020. Brady will be 43 years old next season, making him the oldest QB in the league since Vinny Testaverde threw 172 passes at 44 years of age in 2007, but he is not your average over-40 player.

The quarterbacks who have had success after turning 40:

Drew Brees, who turned 40 in 2019, signaling that maybe QBs can just play a lot longer than they used to.

Brett Favre, who led the Minnesota Vikings to an NFC Championship game in 2009 at age 40.

Warren Moon, who went to a Pro Bowl at age 41 with the Seattle Seahawks in 1997.

And Brady, who won the MVP award at age 40, won the Super Bowl at age 41, and who still posted a 24:8 TD:INT ratio last season at age 42. But Brady also seemed to be a shell of his award and trophy-winning self after September — Brady had 10 TD and 2 INT with a passer rating of 99.4 through five games, but a rating of 83 in the final 11 games of the year. And part of that could be matchups:

The first five games were against the Steelers (a great pre-Minkah Fitzpatrick defense that Brady had 341 yards and 3 touchdowns against actually), the Dolphins, Jets, Bills, and Washington. The Bills are also a good pass defense, but Brady was awful that day.

You can also point to whether or not Brady had a weapons downgrade. When he won the MVP in 2017, Brady threw 114 targets to Brandin Cooks, 105 to Rob Gronkowski, and 86 to Danny Amendola. He also threw a combined nine touchdowns to his running backs: James White, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis.

In 2018, he threw 123 to White, 108 to Julian Edelman, 72 to Gronkowski, and 68 to Josh Gordon. White became his primary target and the leading-scorer, but he still had Gronk and a fairly explosive 11-game campaign by Gordon.

Then in 2019, Brady threw 153 times to Edelman and 95 to White, then 54 to Phillip Dorsett, 47 to Mohamed Sanu, and 41 to Jakobi Meyers. The Patriots had Gordon. Cut him. They had Antonio Brown. Cut him. They drafted N’Keal in the first round and he missed the first nine games, hurting his chances to have an impact as a rookie.

He went from an offense that had the greatest tight end of all-time to not having him. From having Cooks as his number one target to having that be Edelman, a very limited possession receiver with fumbling issues. And from players like Gordon to ones like Dorsett and Meyers. They got so desperate that they traded a second round pick for Sanu, who was pretty much a non-factor for them in the passing game during his nine-game tenure.

But that is just circumstantial evidence to potentially support the idea that Brady didn’t respond well to the changes at personnel after Gronkowski retired. He also may have had advantages with his offensive line, his defense, and of course, his coaching. If it didn’t work as well as he wanted in New England in 2019, why would it be so much better with the LA Chargers in 2020? Keenan Allen and Mike Williams would have been massive upgrades for the Patriots at receiver, as would Hunter Henry as a tight end, but can a 43-year-old Brady really be the one to turn their fortunes around immediately? Because you only sign Brady if the rewards are immediate.

That’s a question I threw out to some Bolts from the Blue writers this week: Are you for or against the Brady idea? Here are their answers, as well as my own.

Michael Peterson:

I would be against Tom Brady to the Chargers for a number of reasons. Simply letting an old QB walk and signing another defeats the purpose of trying to rejuvenate the position. Even if he’s the G.O.A.T, he did it with Bill Belichick, not a fairly-new NFL head coach. He also had a better offensive line every single year that, even when underperforming, was still coached by Dante Scarnecchia who is arguably the best OL coach in the NFL. He wouldn’t survive behind the Chargers OL. Although his presence on the team would provide the fan base with a shot in the arm due to the number of TB12 fans, it’s still not worth it.

Matthew Stanley:

I would be a hard no on Tom Brady to the Chargers. Honestly if the team is even considering this it means they care more about “buying NEW fans” than they care about building a good football team. It’s such a short sighted move that almost ignores the fact that they have to play football. Brady has always had a premier supporting cast from top to bottom when he has been successful. I’m not saying he isn’t a great QB, but he is used to his OL being well above average to great. He is used to a top 3 coaching staff and owner. He’d inherit a damn good WR corps, TE, and RB situation with the Bolts, but that’s about where the similarities would end. He’s also going to be even older and more expensive than the guy he’s replacing. All in all, it makes very little sense to me. Could he come in here and be good? Sure. But the best case scenario is that he is a “Good” QB for them for 2 years while eating a large chunk of the cap. Not to mention the fact that the group of Charger fans still rooting for the team because of Philip Rivers who might be on the fence would be all the way out if TB12 is the guy brought in to replace him.

Richard Wade:

From a football standpoint, signing Brady makes no sense. But as someone who writes about the Chargers, I would love having him in lightning bolts. He is one of the most interesting players in the history of the game and his presence on the roster would be infinitely fascinating. I would sign up for Tom Brady under Center right now with no hesitation.

Louis Gorini:

I will say yes to bringing in Tom Brady. I personally think the Chargers have a roster to win a Super Bowl now and need to go all in during this crucial time. By signing Brady, the Chargers can address the o line with the 6th pick in the draft and also plan for the future by drafting a QB in round 2 this year. I know why a lot of people are against replacing an old QB with an older QB but Brady is dramatically better than Rivers. His turnovers are significantly less than Rivers and his pocket presence is way superior. How many 1 score losses have Chargers fans endured over the last 4 years? And how many of those 1 score losses was because Rivers choked within the last 2 minutes and played hero ball which resulted into a game ending interception? You cannot convince me that if Brady was in the same situation the Chargers wouldn’t have more wins and deeper playoff runs. Signing Brady could do for the Chargers what bringing in Peyton Manning did for the Broncos; secure a Super Bowl win.

Kenneth Arthur:

Tom Brady missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2008 — an injury shortened season at that — but he doesn’t appear to be finished. Despite posting his worst career stats in a long time and being arguably a bottom-3 quarterback after September, there may actually be advantages to Brady’s disadvantages. By not having as many physical “gifts,” a compliment that Brady doesn’t really get too often, he has remained one of the best QBs in the NFL at protecting the football. The last time that Brady threw more than two picks in a game was September 25, 2011. Since 2012, Brady’s 10 games with 2+ picks is the fewest among qualified quarterbacks, while Philip Rivers’ 32 such games is the most.

Given an offense with Allen, Williams, and maybe most importantly Austin Ekeler and Henry should they be retained, Brady’s elite acumen for ball protection combined with superior skill players to what New England had may be enough for LA’s offense to be significantly improved in efficiency, if not volume.

The Chargers do need to address the future of the position, but they don’t necessarily need to do it with their first pick, and much of the 12-4 roster from 2018 remains intact so there’s reason to believe they can compete again immediately. Starting a rookie in no way makes it impossible for the Chargers to compete next season, but it is much riskier; even Sam Darnold and Kyler Murray look to be good young quarterbacks but couldn’t lead their teams to victory often enough. Brady doesn’t necessarily have to be the veteran QB they bring in to hold the position and make them competitive again, but he could be the least riskiest, especially if he’s not asking for a high-end salary. As to the offensive line, I believe a better year of health and regression could fix some of those issues, while the free agent market and the draft have also sparked quicker-than-expected turnarounds in that area before.

I’m a little surprised at myself, but I vote “Yes” on Brady. For one year.