Next two years loom large for both Tom Brady and Patriots

The next two years will prove pivotal in either validating Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots or Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Monday, ESPN senior writer Ian O’Connor joined the WEEI radio show and spoke about a conversation he had with Tom Brady over the phone a few years ago. In it, Brady reportedly spoke seriously about playing well past the age of 45, according to Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway.

“I had a phone conversation with him—what about an hour—two, three years ago where we were talking about Tom Brady playing until age 46, 47, maybe even 48,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think he’s stopping at 45—I really don’t. I never thought he was gonna stop at 45. I think he’s got four, five years left.”

It’s easy to forget that Brady is still “only” 42 years old.

He’ll turn 43 before this new season begins, and if he plays out the entirety of his new two-year, $50 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that means he’ll be hitting unrestricted free agency for the second time in his professional career come spring of 2022. At that point, Brady will be 44 years old.

That would also be the point at which both he and the Buccaneers would have to make a choice.

Brady would need to decide just how satisfied he is with his career at that juncture, and whether or not he wants to keep pushing himself to play at 45, 46, 47, or (gulp) 48.

And the Bucs would need to decide — based off what they will have seen over the next two seasons — whether they want to keep a quarterback on their roster who’s that old.

From a New England Patriots perspective, there’s really no good reason — other than kindness — to want Brady to play for another five or six years (or more).

Because if Brady has that much football left in him — and if there’s another team out there, be it the Bucs or somebody else, that’s willing to let him run their operation that long — then it will mean Bill Belichick and the Pats screwed up in ever letting Brady go in the first place.

The only way that Belichick and the Pats look smart in this situation is if Brady really does fall off that mythical cliff that ESPN TV analyst Max Kellerman was always talking about, whether this season or next.

It’s certainly not something that anyone wants to wish on Brady, of course. Unless you’re a Saints, Panthers, or Falcons fan, there’s really no good reason to cheer against Brady this early on. Even teams like the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins really don’t have a reason to root against Brady trying to make more history — so long as it’s with the Buccaneers now.

But as strange and sad as the proposition might be, Patriots fans may want to re-think just how much they pull for Tampa during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

If Brady struggles or finally shows his age running the show down in Florida, it will vindicate Belichick’s controversial and probably largely unpopular decision to let Brady walk in free agency this past month.

Likewise, if Belichick’s team doesn’t miss a beat this season without Brady, then it serves as further proof of Belichick’s greatness.

Mind you, I’m not saying anything about their legacies, right now. This is not a post about who’s more responsible for the Patriots’ dynastic success these past two decades — those have been done to death. And besides, we won’t really know the answer to that question for sure until both men have retired — and maybe not even then.

Rather, this is a post illustrating the importance of the next two years for two very different franchises and two very similar men.

The Bucs and the Pats couldn’t be more separate on the NFL spectrum — New England is the gold standard when it comes to a winning culture, and Tampa Bay has the worst win/loss percentage among all four major North American sports league teams.

Brady and Belichick though, for all their reported acrimony and bitterness that led to this unpleasant split, are cut from the same cloth. They’re both uniquely and manically-motivated to compete and to win at all costs.

If Brady does a better job of that over the next two seasons, it will simultaneously make Belichick look bad. The same can be said if Belichick excels and Brady flounders down in Florida.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that both men succeed in their respective situations. Could we then see Tampa Bay and New England square off in this year’s or next year’s Super Bowl?

Wouldn’t that be something.