Moving On
March 17, 2020

What five legendary quarterbacks' late-career team changes can tell us about Tom Brady

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Tom Brady is no longer a New England Patriot. That sentence is as strange to read, as it is type, as it is to tap out in morse code, but that doesn’t make it any less true. After 20 years in Foxborough, the greatest quarterback in the history of organized football has opted for fresh scenery, warmer winters, and a head coach who isn’t a sentient, black vortex of pain. It’s a shocking decision for football fans everywhere, who saw the writing on the wall but simply couldn’t believe their eyes. It is by no means unprecedented, however. Brady’s late-career pivot follows in the footsteps of a quintet of legendary NFL quarterbacks who also opted for greener pastures in their golden years. How did it work out for them? How will it pan out for Brady? Let’s saddle up for the sunset ride and find out.

Johnny Unitas

Cincinnati Bengals vs San Diego Chargers - September 30, 1973

Charles Aqua Viva

Team You Know Him From: Baltimore Colts (1956-1972)

Team He Went To: San Diego Chargers (1973)

TD/INT: 3 TDs, 7 INTs

Did It Work?: No sir it did not

Johnny Freakin’ U. The OG QB. The dude from whose metaphorical loins all modern quarterbacks sprang. Three-time MVP winner. Played in THREE DIFFERENT DECADES for the Baltimore Colts. But did you know he finished his career at the height of the disco in sunny San Diego, playing four games (losing three), while tossing seven picks in the process? Probably not, and that’s the way it should be. In fact, just go ahead and forget you ever read this.

Joe Namath

Rams v Falcons

Focus On Sport

Team You Know Him From: New York Jets (1965-1976)

Team He Went To: Los Angeles Chargers (1977)

TD/INT: 3 TDs, 5 INTs

Did It Work?: Broadway No

It’s eerie how closely Namath’s career arc mirrors that of the man he upset in Super Bowl III. After over 11 years at the helm of an East Coast powerhouse, Broadway Joe took his talents to La La Land for a solitary—and thoroughly disappointing—season with the Rams. Like Johnny U, Namath played just four games, going 2-2 while throwing five to the wrong team. Suffice to say, the NFL’s westward expansion had (and continues to have) its growing pains.

Joe Montana

FILES-FOOTBALL-MONTANA

JEFF HAYNES

Team You Know Him From: San Francisco 49ers (1979-1992)

Team He Went To: Kansas City Chiefs (1993-1994)

TD/INT: 29 TDs, 16 INTs

Did It Work?: Mostly

Not heeding the lessons of the Joes before him, in 1992 Joe Montana announced one of the most legendary splits in NFL history, parting with the San Francisco 49ers, who wanted to pave the way for another future Hall of Famer named Steve Young (a cautionary tale for Pats fans whose team had the opportunity to do exactly this with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo a few years ago, but we digress.) Once in the AFC West, Montana, also joined by an aging Marcus Allen, played pretty well, leading the Chiefs to the AFC Championship in 1993 and a Wild Card berth in 1994. Injuries continued to dog Montana, however, and his time in Kansas ended as a footnote, with the former GOAT never playing a full 16-game season for the Chiefs

Brett Favre

Minnesota Vikings v New York Jets

Rob Tringali

Team You Know Him From: Green Bay Packers (1992-2007)

Team He Went To: New York Jets (2008), Minnesota Vikings (2009-2010)

TD/INTs: 66 TDs, 48 INTs

Did It Work?: Define “work”

In typical Favre fashion, #4’s late career pivot was considerably messier than the rest. After parting with the Packers in 2007, there was the Aaron Rodgers awkwardness, multiple teary retirement speeches, an MVP-caliber season, a dick-pic scandal, the all-time record for most consecutive starts at the position, and, perhaps, the NFL’s all-time betrayal as well. But in the end, we got three more years of gunslinging goodness, and that’s worth its weight in gold, er, gouda.

Peyton Manning

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

Patrick Smith

Team You Know Him From: Indianapolis Colts (1998-2011)

Team He Went To: Denver Broncos (2012-2015)

TD/INTs: 140 TDs, 53 INTs

Did It Work?: Yes, yep, uh huh, sure did

Coming off neck surgery in 2011, no one was sure if Peyton Manning would ever play again, let alone dominate, but all that was put to rest once Manning started slinging it in the Mile High air. In 2012, Manning shook off the rust and put the Tebow Mania firmly in the rearview. A year later he logged arguably the greatest passing season in NFL history (55/10/5,477). By 2015 the cliff we had all envisioned four years earlier had arrived, but buoyed by a swarming defense and spelled by Brocktober Osweiler himself, Manning went out on top, claiming his second Super Bowl title right at the finish line.

So that brings us back to TB12. What can we expect from his “fresh” start? Will he be more Namath or Peyton? Honestly, who the hell knows. Football is a team sport and the quality of players, coaches, and front-office personnel Brady surrounds himself with probably have more to do with the results than whatever’s left of his ability to throw a 15-yard out. But by the time the 2020 season starts, Brady will be as old as Peyton was when Peyton retired. Of the five QBs above, only Johnny Unitas was in his 40s at the time of his team change. He made it four whole games before hanging it up. Brady should eclipse that with ease, but we’ll just have to wait and see on the rest. That’s half the fun, after all.