After the “storm” of how wise or wasn’t it to give Tom Brady a contract extension giving him and the New England Patriots a partnership that takes them into his fifth decade blows over, the real question will be if Brady continues to be an elite quarterback, on a top rated offense (mostly thanks to him), in four or five years from now.

According to past NFL stats and veteran Warren Moon, at 36 is when the big drops begins. Brady, 35, will turn 36 just before the next season begins. It’s going to be a test from that moment onwards not only to see if he’s worth all the money still being thrown at him, but is he capable of keeping up the numbers that have won him 2 MVP awards and reaching two Super Bowls.

What about winning the Super Bowl? Brady wasn’t that kind of quarterback during the first half of his career, but that’s a subject for another debate, and whether what Bill Belichick sacrificed in order to make his team a passing game powerhouse was what kept them from beating the New York Giants (twice) or from advancing to the big game on other occasion against inferior (on paper) opponents.

In 2009, Brett Favre had a very good season at the age of 40. Mind you, he had Adrian Peterson to rely on as his backfield mate, but that didn’t help in the NFC championship game when the Saints targeted Favre and destroyed him on their way to winning the Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner had two fantastic seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring – at 37, he threw for 4583 yards as the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl, losing in a great game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Steve Young is another quarterback who had a great season at 37, posting a career high in passing yards and leading the NFL with 36 touchdowns. Is that what Brady will be like? All-Pro like when he’s touching 40? According to Warren Moon, who played until he was 44, that’s not too much to ask these days, especially from elite players.

Guys are playing longer today just because we know more about our bodies, we train better, we take better care of ourselves, so there is a good reason for him to play longer. But he has played a lot of football over the last 10 or 12 years. Plus, I think there’s still a burning desire in him to get at least one more Super Bowl. He’s been close the last few years. I think it’s really bothered him he hasn’t been able to win one the last nine years. I think that’s something that’s burning inside him. That’ll keep him going. 

According to others, Brady really isn’t as good as he was two or three years ago – it’s the team that has adjusted. Much less deep throwing, a lot more short routes, so Brady’s weakening legs and arm strength don’t hurt the Patriots. There’s a reason that so many tight ends are playing now, with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski so dominant in the passing game, and Wes Welker being there for the short gains as well.

So the key to Brady being still, well, Tom Brady? Probably Bill Belichick. He might not be the most popular head coach in the NFL among fans and media; he might be a dirty cheater for all some people are concerned, if spying on other teams is cheating; he still is a brilliant football mind, and as long as he stays sharp, we won’t notice Brady declining too much, because he’ll have the right players to mask it around him.

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