With a new wave of younger, faster NFL talent invading the nation's most popular sport, the rules of the game are changing. New policies have been put into effect preserving players on both sides of the ball from mounting concussion concerns, as well as a variety of new rules protecting every franchise's most valuable asset at quarterback.
But as youth in the NFL becomes the new normal, and the game is played in space rather than the tightly packed, smash-mouth style of the past, it's veterans who have seen it all who are thriving. Seasoned vets like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who in his 19th professional season, is seeing the changes come full circle but continues to dominate the game.
The five-time Super Bowl champion and 13-time Pro Bowl selection is on his way to another Hall of Fame caliber season in 2018 with the Patriots. He's completing his highest percentage of passes since the 2007 season, when he became the first quarterback to reach 50 touchdown passes during his first of three MVP seasons.
The 19-year veteran is watching the professional game change right in front him, but the Hall of Famer still isn't letting it pass him by.
On his weekly Monday interview with WEEI, Brady talked about the differences between NFL football when he first entered the league as a rookie in 2000 and today.
"I think it was a different time. Football was different then. Now, in some ways, pro football is more glorified college football. In some ways, the transition -- it's more similar than it used to be when I first started. Football now is removing some of the physical elements of the game. It's more of a space game. You see a lot of college plays more in the pro game now than I remember when I started." -- Tom Brady on WEEI
Brady is spot-on calling the NFL "glorified college football" as wide open offense is becoming the standard for how the game is played.
There are 26 quarterbacks averaging 30 or more pass attempts per game this season. Compare that to only 17 QBs throwing that many times during the 2000 season and only eight signal callers doing so in 1990.
The rules favoring NFL offenses have created a fast-paced tempo that used to only be seen in college schemes, where 40 point games are the standard for an elite college offense.
The old adage "defense wins championships" is quickly being replaced with "offense reigns supreme."
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently became the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader and figures to break a few more records before he's done. Brees joins other veteran NFL quarterbacks like Brady who are in the midst of the best stretches of their careers, and the wide-open game is benefiting them in a big way.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is third in the NFL in passing yards through five games, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has the third-best passer rating among eligible quarterbacks. Even Buccaneers journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to become the only quarterback in NFL history to have three-straight games with at least 400 passing yards earlier this year.
The high-flying game is getting quarterbacks paid, too. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed the richest contract in NFL history prior to the start of the season.
A young group of quarterbacks including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the L.A. Rams' Jared Goff and the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson are leading the charge for big plays and explosive offenses into the future, but veterans aren't going away just yet.
Tom Brady has been around for 19 seasons, but the new fast-paced NFL is slowing down even more for him.
That's a scary thought considering he, and all the old veterans of the game, will be protected by new rules for as long as they want to keep playing what used to be known as a young man's game.
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