Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of an NFL career that will land Tom Brady in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the conformity the Patriots quarterback has forced upon observers of American sports.
At a time when discourse is plagued by divide and subsequent debate in the realm of athletics and elsewhere, Brady creates an anomaly. The best-QB-ever discussion has ceased to exist. Likewise, selecting the Sporting News NFL Athlete of the Decade requires no deliberation.
Of course, the player who held the greatest stranglehold on the rest of the NFL from 2010 to 2019 was the same guy who dominated the previous 10 years. Brady, who is on the verge of completing his 20th NFL season, has been a Pro Bowl selection after every Patriots campaign this decade. He has won three Super Bowls and appeared in two others. He has played in eight consecutive AFC championship games.
For Sporting News, New England's comeback win in Super Bowl 49 against Seattle to close the 2014 season featured the Brady performance that cemented his status as the greatest passer in football history. For many more, an even greater Patriots comeback in Super Bowl 51 against the Falcons did the trick. A few years and an additional championship later, the 42-year-old is simply (and unnecessarily) padding his resume.
From 2010 to 2019, Brady threw for more than 4,000 yards in seven separate seasons. He recorded 30 or more TD passes in every year but three. In 2018, when he neither threw for more than 4,000 yards nor recorded 30 TD passes, he earned his sixth Super Bowl ring.
As we noted after the Patriots' victory over the Rams in Super Bowl 53, that sixth championship mattered more than it should. For a sports world in which perception is often governed by first-grade math, an approach that is absolutist at best and lazy at worst, a sixth title for this dynasty was a big deal.
Now Brady has more Super Bowl wins than any other player in NFL history — just in case it wasn't enough for him to be the only QB ever to win five; the only player ever to win four Super Bowl MVPs; the Super Bowl record-holder for passing yards, completions and TD passes.
Because of what Brady did from 2010 to 2019 to pad what he accomplished from 2000 to 2009, the NFL player of the decade now belongs in the greatest-athlete-ever argument.
By the time he's done playing, he just might shut down that dispute, as well.
By the numbers
6 Super Bowl championships
4 Super Bowl MVP awards
3 AP NFL MVP awards
3 first-team All-Pro selections
14 Pro Bowl selections
538 passing touchdowns
74,079 passing yards
97.0 career passer rating
44 game-winning drives
218-63 record as starter
30-10 record as starter in playoffs
What they're saying:
"There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady. He’s the best. He does so much for us in so many ways on so many different levels. I’m really fortunate that he's our quarterback and for what he's able to do for this team." — Bill Belichick
“He’s the leader, the general, the best ever and that is the end of the story.” — Danny Amendola
“His overall game is just so much greater than the sum of its parts. And Tom Brady just wins. He knows voodoo ... Tom Brady’s the G.O.A.T.” — Von Miller
"He's the most basic quarterback you’ve ever seen. It’s the simplest football that you’ll ever see in your life. He's figured it out: Don’t complicate football. People can hate on him, y’all can be mad at him, but he’s the best quarterback we’ve ever seen.” — Ray Lewis
"You saw that body (at the 2000 NFL Combine). There’s no way you saw six championships in that body. To produce what he has produced, and to play at the level he has played at, is incredible. All of us living should understand how blessed we are to be in this moment while he’s doing what he’s doing. I say yes to comparing him to (Michael) Jordan, and I think what he’s accomplished is more difficult." — Michael Irvin
"He's not going to beat himself — he's going to make you beat yourself. You can't beat that." — Ryan Shazier
"Tom is extremely disciplined. They see the end result on game day, but they don't see all that he does in the offseason and during the season to maintain his health, his body and his mechanics." — Drew Brees
"The guy has already accomplished so much, he's the best out there. The way he competes, the way he prepares for the game, the way he practices every single week, it's just legendary. It makes him the greatest." — Rob Gronkowski
"Tom Brady is a game changer on the field, in the locker room, in life. The only one that can really rival him, that man from the 49ers, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning. (But) Tom Brady is in a class by himself." — Deion Sanders
"I am the baddest motherf— on the planet." — Tom Brady
The next decade belongs to: Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens
Brady changed the game in the early 2000s when he reeled off three Super Bowls in four seasons. New England notoriously found the QB in the sixth round of the draft, and other teams over the past two decades have been searching for a similar gem. Yet the Brady formula, a combination of work ethic, leadership skills, attention to detail and raw talent, can't be replicated.
Now NFL teams will spend the next several years looking for the next Jackson even though he can't be replicated, either.
The QB the Ravens snagged with the last pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is already dominating the league in a way it has never experienced. At age 22, he needed just 14 games to shatter Michael Vick's single-season QB rushing record, and his freakishly quick development as an NFL passer has led to 33 passing touchdowns through Week 15, the most in the league in 2019.
Simply put: Had NFL teams not doubted the possibility of a player like Jackson translating a skill set that dominated the college game, he would not have been the fifth QB selected in his draft class. His early professional success already has and will continue to force NFL talent evaluators into a newfound open-mindedness. In that regard, Jackson's influece in the long term could prove historic.
There will be competition. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes already has an NFL MVP award and an AFC title game appearance on his resume, though he is a couple of years older than Jackson. Texans QB Deshaun Watson has a promising trajectory, though he is limited by his surroundings — which is an important factor.
Brady, of course, benefitted from a stable organization led by arguably the greatest coach in NFL history over the past two decades. Nobody will mistake John Harbaugh for Bill Belichick, but in Baltimore, Jackson has a similarly reliable environment in which to flourish.
And it takes an NFL athlete of the decade to know one. Before the Patriots' Week 10 matchup against the Ravens in November, Brady approached Jackson during pre-game warmups. "You're doing some great stuff," the veteran told the youngster. "Big fan."
That night, powered by Jackson's 224 scrimmage yards, Baltimore hammered New England 37-20.