The place in history for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady elevated even higher last night in Phoenix, as he won his fourth Super Bowl ring. In the aftermath of the Patriots’ thrilling 28-24 win over the Seahawks, let’s ask this—is Brady now the greatest quarterback of all time?
I’ll start by conceding that this is a question that takes an entire book, not a single blog post to try and answer. The problems with making “best QB ever” decisions are numerous. In no sport is statistical data less reliable as a point of comparison than in football. The rule changes constantly make passing easier and to try and compare Brady with, say, Johnny Unitas simply doesn’t work.
Football is also a highly dependent sport. In no other game does your supporting cast matter more—you’re one player out of 22 on the field. You’re only on the field for roughly half the game. There’s a myriad of issues such as offensive line protection, receiver capability, coaching and system and how much defensive help you get that impact your success—both statistically and as a team.
I often wonder if the complexity of evaluating the quarterback position is why so many people just try to reduce it to wins and losses. Picking the best quarterback is often more a question of art than of science—subjective perception is more reliable than numbers.
But it’s still a fun conversation to have, and Brady’s case is exceptionally compelling. I think most people would agree that quarterbacks should be evaluated on some combination of their own personal production, the quality of their supporting cast and how many rings they got, with the debate being among how much weight goes to each one.
Brady is perhaps the only quarterback who can unite all three elements. Here’s why…
*The four rings are the most obvious. He’s tied with Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers. But Brady has also been to two additional Super Bowls, thereby marking him the greatest postseason winner among quarterbacks.
*From 2005 to about 2011, the Patriot defense really was not very good, with the one exception being the undefeated regular season of 2007. New England still stayed not only in contention, but among the league’s elite through those years. Most notable would be 2011 when Brady dragged one of the worst defenses in the NFL to within a play of winning the Super Bowl.
*Brady has really not enjoyed top-caliber wide receivers. New England hasn’t invested in the draft or free agency in this area throughout his career. Among other elite quarterbacks, Brett Favre is the only one I can think of who played as much of his career without a top wideout.
This was most apparent in 2006, when Brady took an awful receiving corps and got his team to within a play of winning the AFC Championship, a year they would also have been heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl.
The one notable exception to this pattern was 2007, when the Patriots did invest in bringing Randy Moss to Foxboro. Brady’s response? Merely to rewrite the record book, win the MVP, lead his team to an unprecedented 16-0 regular season and come within a fluke play of winning the Super Bowl.
This is the case, in a nutshell, for Tom Brady as the best quarterback ever. If you want to talk about lifting a questionable supporting cast, he’s in the conversation with John Elway, Brett Favre and Dan Marino. If you want to talk about rings, he’s in the conversation with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. There’s no facet of this debate that a supporter of Tom Brady can’t hold their own in.
For me personally, I go back and forth between Elway and Brady in this debate. Right now though, after watching a fourth-quarter rally against the league’s best defense and making history, I’m feeling prisoner of the moment and will say Tom Brady as the top quarterback of all time.