Tom Brady the analyst? He has a strong opinion: 'Quarterbacking has gone backwards in the NFL'

Every year, we fascinate over what we’re going to get from highly touted rookie NFL quarterbacks. We debate them and scrutinize them, doubt them and project them. It's all in an effort to anticipate what they can be — or more often than not, can’t be — at the next level.

In some respects, this is the reception that awaits elite NFL players who are making the transition to the broadcast booth. Can they be efficient? Will they understand the fundamentals of the job? Can they carry skills over from one landscape to the next? Can they "wow" us? And perhaps most important of all: Can they be great?

For the first time in decades, Tom Brady is facing these questions again.

In roughly three months, we’ll start to get answers when Brady enters the booth for his first game as an NFL analyst on Sept. 8, taking the lead chair for Fox in a season-opening matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. That will be the moment when the seven-time Super Bowl winner officially pushes off into his football career after his football career, definitively taking his first shot at a pressing question: What will this next iteration of Brady be?

Of course, the journey through his “gap year” from his playing days to the booth hasn’t come without some breadcrumbs along the way. There were moments that included Brady lamenting the “mediocrity” he believes has crept into the NFL, as well as posting a critical social media comment about quarterbacks needing to “throw the ball to the right places” after Indianapolis Colts wideout Michael Pittman Jr. was leveled on a less-than-ideal pass from Gardner Minshew against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. For those who have paid attention, Brady has showcased a willingness to share blunt opinions about the state of the league and its quarterback play, possibly foreshadowing what can be expected in his broadcasting career.

And he was no less candid Wednesday, when he spoke to Yahoo Sports while making the rounds for his forthcoming “Let’s Go!” marketing partnership with Hertz, which kicks off this week. During the visit, Brady touched on a handful of topics, including reflecting on his year off between jobs and what can help New England Patriots quarterback Drake Maye through his rookie plunge into the NFL. And when the topic of quarterbacking in the NFL came up — and what the next 20 years of development might look like at the position — Brady again went right into the marrow.

“I think the quarterbacking has gone backwards a little bit in the NFL,” Brady told Yahoo Sports, just a few hours before he was to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. “I don’t think it’s improved. I don’t think the teaching’s improved. I think maybe the physical fundamentals might be a little bit improved because there’s better information out there for quarterbacks to study on mechanics. But I don’t think quarterbacks really are really field generals right now like they used to be.

"It’s a broad statement, certainly. But I had total control. I had all the tools I needed. I was coached that way. I was developed to have the tools that I needed to go on the field so that whenever something came up, I had the right play, the right formation, the right audible, the right check at the line — to ultimately take control of the 11 guys on offense and get us into a good, positive play.”

Tom Brady made the media rounds for his marketing partnership with Hertz, which kicks off this week. Brady spoke to Yahoo Sports on multiple topics, including the state of QB play in the NFL. (Courtesy of Hertz)
Tom Brady made the media rounds for his marketing partnership with Hertz, which kicks off this week. Brady spoke to Yahoo Sports on multiple topics, including the state of QB play in the NFL. (Courtesy of Hertz)

The well of experience Brady was drawing upon in the moment wasn’t difficult to understand. His history as a college player at Michigan — where he patiently learned behind Brian Griese and then clawed his way to the top of the depth chart and beat back a challenge from highly touted recruit Drew Henson — is a well-known part of the Brady lore. But what is now coming into sharper focus, and what might shape him as a critical analyst, was how his work ethic and quarterback patterning took shape early in his career. His elite peers as a young player arguably had far more autonomy at the line of scrimmage to run an offense as they saw fit. Think: Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Steve McNair and others.

Now Brady sees more young quarterbacks coming into the league from simplified college offenses that are often called or adjusted from the sideline. He sees those same players walking into some NFL buildings where staffs are embracing the movement of control away from the line of scrimmage and into the hands of a coach. All the while, he’s seeing less of a mandate to make quarterbacks grow and push outside of their comfort zone while taking on more responsibility. And that’s leading Brady to an opinion that things are getting worse at the position.

“I think now, there’s this try-to-control element from the sideline between the coaches, where they want to have the control,” Brady said. “And they’re not teaching and developing the players the right tools so that they can go out on the field and make their own decisions that are best suited for the team. When I looked at Peyton Manning, he was a guy that I looked up to because he had ultimate control. And I think the game’s regressed in a little bit of that way, based on what’s happened in high school football, college football and then the NFL’s getting a much lesser developed quarterback at this point.”

So what’s the fix?

Well, Brady sees it as complicated and multi-level. Quarterbacks in the NFL can’t come into the league and demand control, let alone be capable of handling it, especially when lower levels of football appear to have less linear learning processes than ever. Unlike his high school and college path to growth in the 1990s, there is more “program hopping” at the position. Whether it’s elite high school football or the transfer portal in college, it’s becoming more of an accepted norm for quarterbacks — and even coaches — to seek out a symbiotic relationship that is predicated on skill fit rather than skill development.

The result: It becomes harder for the NFL to advance the position into new plateaus of development, either because players are coming in less equipped to grind and learn, or they simply don’t have the time to deviate from doing what produces the quickest results.

“It’s on everybody,” Brady said. “It’s on players, it’s on coaches, it’s on the league, it’s on the colleges. Think about it: There’s no continuity anymore. Not even in high school. Not even in college. There’s no programs that are developing [quarterbacks] in college. They’re just teams now. So you play one year here, one year here, one year here. Well, how can you be good at something in a job if you’re only working at one place for one year, then going to another place for one year, then to another place for one year?”

“Coaches are doing the same thing,” Brady continued. “So they’re trying to go in and develop a program and develop people, but they don’t have the time because of the pressure from social media and the pressure from media to get it fixed right away. So now they’re saying, all right — rather than draft a quarterback and say I want to develop you — they’re saying, ‘We’re going to draft a quarterback and ask the quarterback, what do you do well? We just gotta do that so I can try to win some games so I don’t get fired.’”

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) wears his red Patriots Hall of Fame induction jacket as he greets fans, flanked by with event MC US sports commentator Mike Tirico, during the 2024 induction ceremony at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on June 12, 2024. Tom Brady is the 35th person to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Brady shows off his Patriots Hall of Fame jacket as he greets fans while sports commentator Mike Tirico MCs the event at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images) (JOSEPH PREZIOSO via Getty Images)

It’s not a soft stance from Brady, or contrived for effect. When he talks about it, his belief in it resonates. And if that’s where his career as an analyst is headed, it will likely resonate with his audience, too. Not unlike the experience of watching Manning’s open-vein reactions during a weekly "Manningcast." The value in the viewership experience is the acceptance of authenticity. And when Brady talks about quarterbacks right now, that’s what he’s laying on the table. It's how he sees the position from decades of elite success, and where it’s breaking down. Maybe it will come off as a late-40s ex-player shouting at clouds — but, well, sometimes the clouds are asking for it.

At the very least, what Brady seems to be teasing right now is a lot of blunt quarterback evaluation from someone who wants the position — and the guys playing it — to reach for something better, rather than something that is a more convenient fit or style of play. And that’s something that came through when he spoke about Maye, the third overall pick in April’s draft.

“I’m very fortunate to be around him and I like him a lot,” Brady said of Maye. “I’ve heard great things about him. But his opportunity is going to be really what he makes of it and how he wants to develop it and how he wants to attack his profession — like we all do. It’s not where you’re at when you’re 22. It’s who you’re around when you’re 22. Who inspires you to be better? Who develops you? I was so fortunate. I look at my career, I was looking around at other competitors like Peyton Manning, like Steve McNair, Vinny Testaverde was playing for the [New York] Jets. Brett Favre was playing.”

“I was looking around at quarterbacks who were unbelievable,” Brady said. “And I had coaches that were unbelievable. The competition was tough. My coaches were tough. I had to grow and develop. I would want those [young] guys to have the same thing. I just don’t see it the same way that I saw it back then [in my career]. I see a lesser developed player, lesser developed coaches. They’re not teaching anymore. There’s less time to teach. There’s a lot of reasons why. … First of all we’ve got to become aware of it, and then we need to put some things in place to make those changes.”

More often than not, change is sparked through observation, conversation, criticism and actions that ensue. Come September, Brady will be conveniently seated in a prominent spot in that crossroads. And how he approaches it will go a long way toward answering what he will be in this next football life.