Sunday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots is not only special because it features Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough, but because it’s probably the only Brady-Bill Belichick showdown we’re ever going to get. The teams won’t meet again in the regular season until 2025, and the odds of a Tampa Bay-New England Super Bowl are close to zero.
Bill Belichick: Tom Brady could play until 50
But what if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if Brady and Belichick are both still in the league in four years? Belichick would be 73. Brady, at age 48, would be the oldest position player in NFL history.
Belichick — who is 36 wins shy of Don Shula’s NFL record (347) — can probably coach the Patriots for as long as he wants. But for Brady, the desire to keep going is only one factor. His body — plus the slow decline all athletes experience with age — might fail him.
And yet, Belichick this week raised the prospect of Brady not only still being in the league in 2025, but two seasons after.
“Nothing Tom does surprises me,” Belichick said. “He’s a great player. Works hard and takes care of himself. I mean, he’s talking about playing until 50. If anybody can do it, he probably can.”
How old is Tom Brady right now?
If this sounds fantastical, it’s because it is. George Blanda at age 48 is the oldest person to appear in an NFL game. But he was a kicker late in his career. Right now, Brady is 44 years old. The oldest true quarterbacks in league history were Steve DeBerg and Vinny Testaverde, who were Brady’s age when they retired.
But researchers who specialize in aging believe that, if Brady maintains his maniacal devotion to fitness and (most importantly) avoids major injury, he actually could become the NFL’s first quinquagenarian.
“[He can] if he says, ‘I’m perfectly happy playing football, I want to continue to train, I have great trainers. I’m going to maintain my muscle mass. I’m going to eat the proper diet, I’m not going to screw around,'” said Dr. Andrew Goldberg, professor emeritus in geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“You don’t see him in nightclubs,” Goldberg added. “You don’t see him out playing around. He’s a religious guy. He’s athletic, he’s a great athlete. I don’t think that is going to be a problem unless he gets some horrible illness. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.”
How Brady could play until 50
Brady has famously maintained that discipline with his TB12 Method. And aside from a couple of knee surgeries, he’s managed to avoid major injury. Goldberg believes that most great careers are derailed not by the aging process, but by health issues and lack of discipline.
Male athletes typically peak physically in their mid-to-late 20s, and then incrementally lose V02 max capacity for the rest of their lives. But Brady isn’t a sprinter. He doesn’t need to jump out of the gym. And rigorous, smart conditioning can prevent a significant drop-off in performance. Plus, he’s apparently been blessed with great genetic makeup.
“In general, different body systems begin declining at different ages,” Miriam Morey, a professor at the Duke Aging Center, told PFN. “The cardiovascular respiratory system, musculoskeletal system, and all other systems will decline over time, but not at the same time or rate; they also do not suddenly and simultaneously begin declining.
“Cardiorespiratory function tends to decline in the late 20s and early 30s, and declines at about 1% per year,” she added. “Factors that contribute to variability in rates of decline include genetics, environment, and lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc). … At age 26 you probably haven’t begun to experience too many declines in strength or speed, but at 36, you have.”
Will he play at least three more seasons?
But Brady has blown well past 36. He’s within shouting distance of 46. And yet, he leads the league in touchdown passes (10) and is second in yards per game (362.3). There’s no steep decline in his performance. In fact, it’s hard to identify any decline.
Which is why, in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Brady raised the prospect of playing three more seasons. He has already committed to play in 2022, but beyond that is up in the air. Family life, not physical diminishment, seems to be a more likely reason he retires before 50.
“Brady is amazing and only gets wiser with age and experience,” Morey said. “He is also going to get slower so we can hope he stays injury free so he can play as long as he wants.”