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By the Numbers

Should Tom Brady Be Considered Washed Up?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: March 2, 2020, 9:46 pm ET

The hoopla surrounding Tom Brady's 2020 destination has reached a fever pitch. The Raiders, Chargers and Titans are all reportedly in the running for the six-time Super Bowl champion, while the Patriots reportedly won't be opening up contract talks until the league's new CBA is formally agreed upon.

Most recently Brady was spotted at a college basketball game between North Carolina and Syracuse alongside long-time No. 1 WR Julian Edelman, who persistently said "He's coming back, he's coming back," only for Brady to seemingly respond: "He's not" or "This guy."

Further complicating matters was Brady's decision to FaceTime Titans coach Mike Vrabel during the game.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea. Personally, I think Brady returns to the Patriots in 2020 and all of this is simply an attempt to spice up his offer.

We'll see how this situation plays out. Luckily, there's one question we can answer in the meantime: Does Brady's performance during the 2019 season indicate that he's washed up? Special thanks to Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus and Player Profiler for the data.

Brady's overall stats last season were not good

Brady put together his worst statistical season in 2019 since at least 2013 (and maybe 2006) by most statistical measures.

Note that:

  • QBR is ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating that has been calculated since 2006.
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt differs from yards per attempt by adding sacks, touchdowns and interceptions to the equation.
  • Completion rate is completions per pass attempt.
  • Touchdown rate is touchdowns per pass attempt.
  • Interception rate is interceptions per pass attempt.
Brady by Year

It's clear that Brady took a turn for the worse in 2019.

Of course, these high-level stats don't tell the whole story.

Patriots receivers didn't help Brady's cause

The GOAT sure didn't receive much help from his teammates last season, as only Dak Prescott (36) had more dropped passes than Brady (34). Additionally, Brady didn't exactly fall off a cliff when it came to the ability to test defenses downfield, as he was one of 14 QBs to post a QB Rating over 100 on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield (PFF).

Yes, Brady led the league in throwaways (40) and posted the third-highest rate of bad throws behind only Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. One could argue that Brady is responsible for these bad throws, but the offense simply wasn't the same efficient machine we've grown used to seeing on a per-catch basis.

  • The Patriots' team-wide average of 3.42 yards after the catch per target ranked 22nd and was their lowest mark since 2013.
  • Brady's average release time of 2.58 seconds was his slowest mark since PFF began recording the statistic in 2011.
  • So was his average target depth of just eight yards.
  • Just 4.9% of Brady's end-zone targets were converted into six points, which marked just the second time since 2010 he finished under 5%.
  • Player Profiler measures a QB's supporting cast efficiency. The Patriots fourth in 2017, fourth in 2018 ... and 17th in 2019.
  • And yet, Brady's percentage of uncatchable passes in 2019 (24%) was nearly equal to his mark in 2018 (23%).
  • His 41% rate of catchable deep balls in 2019 was far from a problem considering his previous rates from 2018 (42%), 2017 (46%), 2016 (43%), 2015 (45%) and 2014 (33%).

Add it all together and it's clear receivers weren't breaking open as quickly in 2019, and there wasn't anyone to help make up for this in downfield or contested-catch situations. 

And why should we have expected otherwise? Each "bad" season we've seen from Brady has almost directly coincided with a period that the team struggled to surround him with healthy playmakers:

  • 2006: Deion Branch was gone; something named Reche Caldwell led the team in receiving.
  • 2013: Just seven games from Rob Gronkowski, very young Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola's first year with the Patriots.
  • 2019: No viable replacement for Gronk, incredibly-banged up Edelman *and* Mohamed Sanu down the stretch, as well as injury-riddled inconsistency from first-round rookie N'Keal Harry.

Brady left some yards on the field in 2019, but it's not like Patriots games were a consistent mess of off-target passes to wide-open receivers. Rather, there was an alarming lack of both separation and contested-catch ability from this offense's injured and underwhelming crop of pass catchers throughout the season.

Also not helping matters was the Patriots' newfound lack of dominance at the line of scrimmage.

This was far from a great offensive line in 2019

Brady hasn't exactly been what some would call a dual-threat QB throughout his career. Sure, he moves slower today than he did back in the mid-2000s when juking out Brian Urlacher, but either way this man has never made a habit of winning with his legs.

This reality makes having an elite offensive line along with receivers that can create separation imperative, as Brady was nothing short of atrocious under pressure in 2019. Overall, his average of 4.1 yards per pressured attempt was higher than only Mason Rudolph (3.7) among 35 qualified QBs.

Brady was pressured at the league's seventh-lowest rate, indicating he's still been able to largely avoid opposing pass rushes, but major trouble has brewed when defenders have managed to get loose.

Pressure and sacks are more of a QB stat than an indictment on the offensive line. Still, it's clear this group wasn't the same caliber in 2019 as we saw in previous seasons.

  • Starting C David Andrews (blood clot) missed the entire season. 2018 first-round OT Isaiah Wynn (turf toe) missed the first eight games of the year.
  • The team's adjusted sack rate in 2019 (5.3%) was the fifth-best mark in the league, but still quite a bit worse than their league-best mark from 2018 (3.8%). 
  • The offensive line averaged 2.2 yards before contact per rush in 2019, good for the 20th-highest mark in the league. In 2018 their rate of 2.5 yards before contact per carry ranked 14th.
  • Of course, Sony Michel and company didn't exactly help matters. The Patriots boasted the largest negative difference in the league in adjusted line yards per rush and yards per carry, indicating the team's ball carriers left plenty of meat on the bone.

This wasn't a "bad" unit by any stretch of the imagination, but it was pretty far from the near-perfect group that has typically surrounded Brady during the twilight of his career.

Conclusion

Brady made a habit early in his career of elevating mostly-porous groups of pass catchers. Still, we saw in 2006, 2013 and most-recently 2019 that the future first-ballot HOF is capable of having down seasons without an elite supporting cast.

Bill Belichick made sure to increase the weaponry around Brady in 2007 (Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth) and benefited from improved health in 2014. Both paths to success are on the table this offseason, regardless of whether or not Brady ultimately decides to continue his career in New England.

Remember: The Patriots were stuffed from the Titans' goal line on three consecutive runs in the AFC Wild Card round and forced to settle for a field goal. It's not like Brady was the sole reason why the Patriots' playoff run was cut short in 2019.

Belichick certainly could consider changing his allotment of resources in regards to the salary cap:

  • 2019 spending on the offense: 21st
  • Offensive line: 29th
  • Tight end: 32nd
  • Wide receiver: 12th
  • Running back: 3rd

Brady certainly didn't elevate the Patriots Offense to great heights in 2019. He also didn't have much help in attempting to do so. It's clear that Brady was a below-average QB with a below-average supporting cast last season, but it remains to be seen if he's still capable of performing at an elite level with a great group of players around him.

The best years of Brady's career are almost certainly in the past, although it's a bit premature to assume that the GOAT is washed up just yet.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.