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Tom Brady looks on before a game against the Rams in 2022.
Photo by Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Inside this column

  • Brady and the top quarterback walk-offs
  • Texting with Warren Moon
  • Dan Nostra-Fouts
  • Josh McDaniels repeats history?
  • What’s up in Oakland
  • Super Bowl early prediction
  • Why the NFL needs to fix the draft NOW

The retirement of Tom Brady was impressive on a number of levels, starting with the fact that he did it without the usual press conference and teary goodbye. I’m not necessarily against that, but this was Brady’s plan and he stuck to it.

More importantly, Brady walked away at pretty much the top of his game. While Tampa Bay didn’t win a Super Bowl, they had a good season before injuries got in the way and Brady had one of his best statistical seasons. He’s probably going to be the runner up for the NFL Most Valuable Player Award when it’s announced next Thursday. He might even win it.

Tom Brady & The Best Quarterback Final Seasons

Tom Brady celebrates after winning Super Bowl LV.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Certainly, his 43 touchdown passes (the second-most of his career) and his 5,318 passing yards (the most of his career) showed that he can still play at age 44. The bottom line is that Brady walked away on his terms, not like so many great quarterbacks who limped to the finish line, like the sight of Johnny Unitas playing in San Diego, Joe Namath finishing up with the Los Angeles Rams, Dan Marino doing awkward spins away from defensive linemen or Brett Favre being battered and bruised in Minnesota.

Of the 28 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who played most of their career after the introduction of the T formation in the 1930s, only seven have gone out on what you might consider their own terms. The others retired because they really weren’t wanted, needed or playing well. For instance, Fran Tarkenton threw 25 touchdown passes in his final season, but that also went with a career-high and league-leading 32 interceptions.

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Here’s a ranking of those seven who went out on some high note or while still playing well enough to keep going:

Otto Graham, Cleveland, 1955: You can’t script it much better. The Browns won their seventh title with Graham, who also won his third Most Valuable Players award in a five-year span, and he was named All-Pro for the seventh time. Years later, Graham said he easily could have kept playing, but had become disenchanted after years of dealing with demanding head coach Paul Brown.

Brady: There’s a pretty good debate to be had about whether it’s better to walk out as a champion or to walk off with a great statistical season. We’ll give a little more weight to Brady’s individual accomplishments in this case to give him the nod over the next guy.

John Elway, Denver, 1998: He finished his career with five Super Bowl appearances, which was the most until Brady came around. That final appearance also marked the second of back-to-back championships and included Elway being named the Most Valuable Player of the game. However, Elway also played only 12 games in the regular season.

Peyton Manning, Denver, 2015: Manning was bruised and broken at the end of a season in which he threw only nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. But Manning did conjure up a terrific postseason run in which he called extraordinary games as the Broncos beat Ben Roethlisberger, Brady and then NFL MVP Cam Newton for the Lombardi Trophy.

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Roger Staubach, Dallas, 1979: In some ways, this is a very similar season to Brady. Staubach set a career high with 27 touchdown passes and posted the best rating of his career in a season in which he threw more than 250 passes. He also led the Cowboys to the playoffs, where they narrowly lost to the Los Angeles Rams, who went on to reach the Super Bowl. However, the 37-year-old Staubach had dealt with plenty of concussions and the Cowboys had Danny White prepared as his successor.

Joe Montana, Kansas City, 1994: Montana had an admirable season, going 9-5 as a starter and throwing 16 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. However, his arm didn’t have much punch left and he averaged only 6.5 yards per pass attempt, a paltry figure. At age 38, Montana had played out the string after leaving San Francisco.

Kurt Warner, Arizona, 2009: Warner is the owner of one of the more bizarre careers in NFL history. Not only did it get off to an improbable beginning with his circuitous route to Super Bowl champion, but it also appeared to be over in the middle. But over the final two seasons, Warner managed to take Arizona to a Super Bowl and then back to the playoffs the next year. He played well statistically with 25 TD passes, only 11 interceptions and 3,753 yards. All of that said, his body was beaten to a pretty pulp by the end.

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Texting With Warren Moon

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon is greeted by the crowd during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket Dinner on August 4, 2016.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon shares a fun stat with Brady. Both played until they were 44 before retiring. Both also followed improbable paths to the NFL, Moon as an undrafted player who dominated the Canadian Football League for five years before coming to the NFL. Brady made it after being a sixth-round pick.

Anyway, both had the joy of playing a kid’s game for far longer than most human beings can. That prompted me to text Moon after Brady officially hung it up.

JC: “You played until you were 44. How hard was it to walk away even after everything you did in your career?”

WM: ‘It’s a game you absolutely love, you’ve played since you were a kid, and physically you can still do it. But the grind to keep being competitive wears on you, and you have other priorities in your life by now. It’s a difficult decision, but the right one.”

Dan Fouts Knew About Brady All Along

Former NFL player Dan Fouts, a former quarterback for the Oregon Ducks, is honored as a member of the 2020 Pac-12 Hall of Honor class.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Aside from Moon, fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts weighed in on the remarkable ability of Brady to play until he was 44. The key to Fouts was that Brady played from the pocket instead of trying to run.

“He set a great example because quarterback is supposed to be played from the pocket. That’s how the passing game is designed,” Fouts said. “He was the classic pocket passer and the classic play-action passer. He set up seven yards behind the center and got rid of the ball. He understood how to play the game. Aside from that one year where he got hit in the knee, he was able to play most of the time without a really major injury.”

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And as Fouts pointed out with a laugh, Brady also made him look good.

In 1995, Fouts was the sports director at KPIX in his native San Francisco and was assigned to do a feature on the top high school prospects in the Bay Area. Tom Brady of Serra was one of them and Fouts declared that Brady had the best chance to have a special career. The station revisited that report back in 2017:

Has Josh McDaniels Learned?

Josh McDaniels stands on the field before the Patriots' game against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Raiders coach Josh McDaniels is a truly great offensive coordinator who not only won Super Bowls with Brady, but this past season maxed out what he could get from rookie Mac Jones. The question is whether McDaniels has matured enough as a coach to take advantage of his second chance to run a team after being named the Las Vegas Raiders new head coach.

Obviously, I’m hoping for the best with McDaniels. Failure isn’t particularly interesting, despite how most people believe that reporters think. The concern here is that McDaniels has stepped into a situation much like the one he took over in Denver during his first coaching stint. McDaniels ran roughshod over the Broncos organization, quickly making enemies with people both inside and outside the organization.

The biggest issue in Denver is that owner Pat Bowlen, who has since passed away, was in the early stages of dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease. Bowlen was not able to advise or oversee McDaniels and help guide the young coach on best practices. Bowlen was better able to do that earlier in the career of Mike Shanahan so that Shanahan and quarterback John Elway could win back-to-back Super Bowls.

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Furthermore, there was no one to tell McDaniels when he was going wrong, such as drafting Tim Tebow in the first round. McDaniels was like most young, brash coaches who believe they can turn a any piece of clay into a Ming vase. You have to have Kaolin clay to make that type of porcelain vase.

The upshot is that McDaniels is going to another team with an owner who doesn’t meddle in Mark Davis, but also an owner who doesn’t know how to create the proper culture for running a team. Bowlen did that years ago in Denver. Robert Kraft did that for all of McDaniels’ career in New England.

So, we’ll see how it goes. For now, McDaniels is saying the right things. Again, here’s hoping it works.

“When I went to Denver, I knew a little bit of football,” McDaniels said in his introductory press conference. “I didn’t really know people and how important that aspect of this process, and maintaining the culture and building the team was. And I failed, and I didn’t succeed at it.

“Looking at that experience has been one of the best things in my life in terms of my overall growth as a person, as a coach. What do I need to do different, how do I need to handle my role, if I have another opportunity, and do better at it? I feel like that’s really an area that I’ve tried to grow in…I know how important it is for a head coach to be able to do that.”

Shenanigans in Oakland

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks during the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It has been nearly three months since the African American Sports & Entertainment Group received a unanimous vote from the Oakland City Council to proceed with an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement in an effort to purchase the city’s controlling half of the Oakland Coliseum site. The other half of the property is being purchased by the Fisher Family of San Francisco, which also owns the Oakland Athletics.

However, a source said this week that the AASEG, which hopes to one day bring the NFL back to Oakland, still has yet to get a draft of the ENA. That’s despite the fact that when the A’s entered into an ENA with the city in 2018, it took only two days to get a draft ENA to the A’s and the Fisher Family.

So, what’s the problem? Multiple sources say that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a white woman who once entertained hopes of joining Vice President Kamala Harris’ staff in Washington, D.C., is adamantly against dealing with the NFL. Schaaf barely tried to keep the Raiders from leaving Oakland years ago. Now, she appears to be undermining a group of Black business people who are from Oakland in order to keep the NFL out. In addition, numerous people believe that Schaaf is working on the Fisher Family’s behalf to eventually get the Coliseum property for commercial development.

Whatever is happening, there seems to be something quite amiss in Oakland. It’s particularly wrong when a group of African-American residents of the city are trying to make something happen and the mayor is working against them.

Super Bowl Prediction Time

Christian Petersen via Getty Images

It’s a big week for yours truly now that I’m 10-2 picking playoff games. The only blemishes were the improbable loss to Green Bay against San Francisco and the collapse of Kansas City against Cincinnati (for the second time this season, so I should have seen it coming). With that in mind, here’s the call for the Super Bowl and the fascinating matchup of the Bengals and the Rams:

L.A. Rams 24, Cincinnati 20: The Rams have a chance to win this game in a runaway because of their pass rush and the problems that the Bengals offensive line had against Tennessee (nine sacks allowed) in the second round of the playoffs. At the same time, the Rams have demonstrated this amazing tendency to make games harder than they should be (such as the four fumbles against Tampa Bay and several critical mistakes against San Francisco). Additionally, the Bengals have a certain pluckiness (yes, that’s a classic old person word, but I’ll use it) that belies their overall youth. Between Joe Burrow’s striking resemblance to Joe Montana’s playing style and Ja’Marr Chase’s supreme confidence, the Bengals are an aspiring power currently punching about two classes over their weight.

This and That

Head coach Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins looks on prior to the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
  • In the wake of Brian Flores accusing Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering money to have the Dolphins tank in 2019 and Hue Jackson accusing Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam of the same thing, the NFL needs to do one thing immediately: Change the draft process into a weighted lottery for the top pick.Even if it turns out that Ross and Haslam didn’t do this, the belief in the public that there would be any impropriety. This is not the first time a team has been accused of tanking. The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled its starters in the second half of a season finale they were winning against New Orleans. The Bucs lost, assuring that they would wrap up the No. 1 pick. Adapting an NBA-type lottery is the solution. Furthermore, it would be a ratings bonanza.
  • The rumor of Aaron Rodgers possibly going to Tennessee certainly has some logic, especially if Rodgers really is building a home in Nashville. There’s just one big problem: Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s contract carries $57.4 million in dead money for the upcoming season if the Titans were to cut him or $28.4 million in dead money if they were to trade. Neither of those are likely to happen.
  • Aside from the mess the NFL is dealing with over Brian Flores, one of the biggest disappointments from members of the Fritz Pollard Alliance was that Chicago didn’t interview Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for the head coaching job. The fact that the Bears hired Ryan Poles away from the Chiefs for the general manager job made members of the organization think that should happen. Poles and Bieniemy had worked together and there had been talk of the two working together again somewhere down the line. However, Poles got the job and then nothing happened. Former Fritz Pollard Alliance Director John Wooten said that Bieniemy not getting an interview was a “slap in the face” and attributed it to former long-time executive Bill Polian taking control of the process when Poles should have had more say.
  • Having mentioned Flores a couple of times, it is worth reiterating that the Dolphins already have tried to besmirch him even before this to justify firing him. Likewise, expect league sources to do the same to knock down his character. At the same time, two veteran agents ripped Flores this week, one of them calling him a “liar” and another calling him an “opportunist.” The agent who called him an opportunist said that multiple Black coaches he had spoken to had expressed being in an uncomfortable position. “We have to support this guy because we know how it will look if we don’t, but this is not a guy we want to get behind,” the agent said.

MORE: Cole’s Thoughts: Why the NFL’s Wonderlic Test Isn’t Dead Just Yet

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Jason Cole has covered the NFL since 1992 and has been a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 2012. He is the author of seven books, including the biography of John Elway (Elway: A Relentless Life).
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