Tom Brady has left the arena for the last time.
Brady announced his retirement from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Instagram on Tuesday after a weekend of confusion and speculation over his future. “I have always believed the sport of football is an ‘all-in’ proposition — if a 100% competitive commitment isn’t there, you won’t succeed, and success is what I love so much about our game. … This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore. I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention,” Brady wrote.
Brady retires as the winningest quarterback in history. His seven Super Bowl victories rank first all-time, as do his 10 Super Bowl appearances. The shadow cast by his postseason success is enormous. In a league designed to promote parity, Brady-led teams made the championship game in nearly half of the seasons he stepped on the field, winning Super Bowls in three different decades.
When Brady’s teams got to the big game, he made his appearances count, winning a record five Super Bowl MVP awards. In his 10 Super Bowl appearances, he threw 421 passes, completing 277 of them for 3,039 yards and 21 touchdowns — each an all-time record. But he wasn’t merely a compiler. After throwing for just 145 yards in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, his first as a starter, he went on to post the two highest single-game passing yardage totals in Super Bowl History: 505 yards against Philadelphia in SB LII and 466 yards in the Patriots’ epic win over the Falcons in SB LI, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. Brady also holds the record for most completions in a Super Bowl without an interception (48), a feat he accomplished twice.
Brady’s teams won and lost Super Bowls in almost every way imaginable. His Patriots teams hold the record for fewest points by a winning team (13 against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII) and most points by a losing team (33 against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII). Brady won a Super Bowl without scoring a touchdown (Super Bowl LIII), and he owns a share of the record for the longest scoring drive (96 yards against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI). Brady appeared in so many championship games compared to his peers, it becomes difficult to contextualize: He lost as many Super Bowls as Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman appeared in.
In the playoffs, when a single loss sends a team home for the year, Brady dominated. His career mark of 35 playoff wins laps the field. To equal Brady’s playoff win total, you’d need to combine the careers of second-place Joe Montana (16), third-place Terry Bradshaw (14) and Hall of Famer Len Dawson (5). He started 47 playoff games, and owns the NFL record for postseason passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
Winning in the postseason naturally requires winning in the regular season, and Brady’s 243 regular-season wins as a starter are an NFL record. They’re also 57 wins more than Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, who share second place. Brady’s lead over Favre and Manning is so large that if the NFL ever does something silly like create an award for QB Wins, they’ll have no choice but to name it The Tom Brady. The 31 percent jump from Favre and Manning to Brady is 8 percentage points more than Cy Young’s lead over second-place Walter Johnson in career wins in Major League Baseball.
Over the course of all that winning through 22 seasons, Brady accumulated regular-season records in many of the same areas he did in the postseason. Thanks in part to his incredible longevity, Brady holds the all-time marks in regular-season completions (7,263), passing yards (84,520) and touchdown passes (624). His 15 Pro Bowl selections are first all-time, and his three league MVP awards are tied for second.
Brady’s total career value is historic as well: His Approximate Value1 of 316 ranks first in NFL history. And as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell points out, if you split his career up into two equal parts, both 11-year runs would be worthy of induction in the Hall of Fame.
|Super Bowl wins||7||1st|
|Super Bowl appearances||10||1st|
|Super Bowl MVPs||5||1st|
|Pro Bowl selections||15||1st|
|Playoff games started||47||1st|
|QB regular-season wins||243||1st|
|QB playoff wins||35||1st|
|Playoff pass completions||1,165||1st|
|Playoff passing yards||13,049||1st|
|Playoff passing touchdowns||86||1st|
There was a moment in the not-so-distant past when the debate over Brady being the greatest quarterback of all time was unsettled. Today, though, it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that Brady is the GOAT. But among those who still doubt Brady’s place atop the QB pantheon, the things they point to most often are Brady’s efficiency stats. The Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt Index (ANY/A) accounts for sacks and interceptions as well as yards and touchdowns, expresses them on a per-attempt basis and adjusts for era. On this view of quarterback value, Brady is still incredible, tied for eighth all-time, but he isn’t the top dog.2
It’s a similar story for QB Elo, our measure of quarterback value at FiveThirtyEight. When we index QB Elo to league average to account for era, Brady ranks eighth all-time. If we plot the rolling four-game average of Brady’s QB Elo vs. average over his career and compare it to that of Manning,3 we see that although Brady and Manning share a similar career progression, Manning was more efficient.
Brady’s start to his career was rockier than Manning’s. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising considering Brady was picked 199th and Manning was taken first overall. A first-round pick probably should be ahead of a sixth-rounder developmentally early in their respective careers.
But Brady did eventually catch up with Manning. Both peaked between the 110th and 120th games of their careers: Manning in 2004 when Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley caught more than 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns each, Brady during the Patriots’ undefeated regular season in 2007 with Randy Moss. And, when the end was near, both saw swoons.
It’s striking, though, that while Manning’s career fell off of a cliff, Brady managed to rebuild his game after a dramatic late-career decline in New England. He would eventually reinvent himself in Tampa Bay with a new coaching staff and receiving corps, and return not just to his old form but win a seventh and final Super Bowl last season.
And it’s that winning that defines and elevates Brady. After all, the goal of football is to win championships. The quarterback is the player most responsible for winning those games. And no one has ever won like Brady.
Neil Paine contributed research.