Tom Brady has built a legacy as big as it gets. In 2017, after winning his fifth championship ring in his seventh Super Bowl (51), he surpassed both his boyhood idol Joe Montana and Pittsburgh Steelers’ great Terry Bradshaw. Even the New England Patriots’ 2018 loss in Super Bowl 52 did not undermine Brady’s brilliance, especially when he went on to win his sixth championship ring in 2019 followed by his seventh championship ring in his 10th Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and let’s not forget about his 5 Super Bowl MVP awards). With his announcement that he’s retiring “for good” after 23 seasons, it’s time to look back at Brady’s record-breaking professional career, which extended past last year’s short-term retirement, and ask whether he should be called the best quarterback in NFL history.
Here are three arguments why he should and shouldn’t be considered the best:
3 reasons why Brady is the best
Brady`s ability to control and command the field
Being a quarterback is not just about displaying football skills; it`s about showing leadership and guts. It`s about commanding the situation, knowing what`s best for your team and taking control. Many argue that no one commands the field better than Brady. Win or lose, his ability to think situations through in milliseconds and execute decisions decisively is incomparable. His former Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained: “It [his preparation] is consistent every week in terms of learning the defense… their schemes and their players… he has a lot of experience against defensive coordinators, different players, and different situations. He’s able to put it together better than any player that I’ve coached…” With Seven Super Bowl titles – not to mention 5 Super Bowl MVPs: He is simply the most accomplished quarterback.
7 rings can`t be deflated
Brady played for the New England Patriots for 20 years before leaving for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Looking back on both teams’ success, many attribute it to Brady and his football skills and composure. Despite past controversies, both alleged (Deflate-gate) and confirmed (Spygate), they had minimal impact on the Patriots’ success. (Worth mentioning is that the 2015 AFC championship 45-7 win was not achieved due to underinflated footballs). Thus, these incidents should not taint Brady`s legacy, especially as he won three titles before those scandals and led his team in 2017 to the biggest comeback in the Super Bowl history afterward — not to mention competing again in the 2018, 2019 and 2021 Super Bowls.
He shows legendary resilience
Brady`s 2016-17 season with the Patriots has all the drama of a great story. During his four-game suspension in the beginning of the season, he still practiced the same schedule as his teammates. He entered that season as a 39-year-old, knowing it might be his last chance to win his fifth ring. Above all stands the his mother`s illness back then. She was diagnosed with cancer and Brady traveled as often as possible to visit her. The first game she attended in the 2016-17 season was Super Bowl 51. During that game, he crafted the biggest comeback in the history of the Super Bowls and won the MVP title. It`s a dramatic story to be told, and his resilience is what legends are made of. In 2018, despite being 40 years old and losing Super Bowl 52, his resilience was still rock strong, as proven by his ability to take his team to victory in Super Bowl 53. What’s more, even though the team changed, when Tom Brady took the field during Super Bowl 55, he was the oldest quarterback in history to play in the Super Bowl. He is, indeed, a football legend.
3 reasons why Brady is great but not the best
Brady has had Belichick and the Patriots’ legendary defense
For 20 years, Brady had the benefit of playing with the powerful Patriots’ defense. His first three Super Bowls should be attributed to the legendary Patriots’ defense (which included current Hall of Famer Ty Law and legend Otis Smith) more than to Brady`s skills. Moreover, that defense was guided by one of the greatest coaches of all time, Bill Belichick. As head coach of the Patriots, the all-powerful Belichick, has had 19 straight seasons with a winning record. (Outside of the 2000, 2020 and 2022 seasons, he never had a losing record.) It can be easily assumed, then, that he can make the extraordinary out of the ordinary, like taking a sixth-round pick quarterback and make him into one of the best ever, as Belichik himself has claimed. Thus, Brady`s legacy should really be attributed to Belichick – a GOAT in his own right, which Brady himself has recognized – and his team’s defense.
Brady plays in an easier era
New rules and regulations make the game softer and quarterback life easier. It`s no secret that during the 70`s and the 80`s, NFL defenses were bigger, tougher and meaner. The game was harder for quarterbacks back then as the stats reflects. Today’s rules generally favor passing the ball and offense, making it easier for the quarterback to shine. Thus, quarterbacks like Brady, Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes are more efficient. There is no way to know how great Brady would have been if he had played in the tougher era, but his stats would most likely not be as impressive, and he probably wouldn’t have seven Super Bowl championship rings.
Joe Montana was better
There can only be one “Best NFL quarterback,” and Joe Montana is it. He had a bigger impact on the 49ers, leading them from a 2-14 record to a Super Bowl within two years. Brady fit into a great team that was never that low. Montana never lost a Super Bowl, unlike Brady, and never threw an interception (!) in the biggest game worldwide. Montana even outplayed Brady’s last play in the 2017 Super Bowl. At Super Bowl 23, Montana led his team 92 yards in three minutes for the winning touchdown. In short, many argue that Brady hasn’t proven himself to be a better clutch and therefore isn’t better than the 49er’s legend.
The Bottom Line: Tom Brady has had a stunning 23-season career in the NFL, leading the Patriots to many season and Super Bowl victories as well as the Buccaneers’ to Super Bowl victory. Despite personal and team challenges, he showed impressive leadership skills. But, does he deserve to be considered the greatest quarterback of all time? Should other factors be considered before putting him on such a pedestal? Who do you consider a quarterback legend?