FRISCO, Texas – There has been umpteen reasons given for Tom Brady, the best quarterback in NFL history, deciding to call it quits at an unprecedented age of 44 and after an unprecedented 22 seasons in the NFL.
The best has come from Brady himself, talking about the time and effort a quarterback must spend year-round to remain "competitive" at the level he commands himself to be able to play, which was at an MVP level in 2021.
Right? Crazy numbers, not only for a man of his age, but for a quarterback of any age.
But how about this reason:
Brady wanted to make sure he finished his career with an undefeated record against the Dallas Cowboys, going 6-0 since the very first of those six meetings in 2003 when he led the Patriots to a 12-0 victory over Bill Parcells' first edition of the Cowboys on his way to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl championship.
See, Brady knew the Cowboys are on the Buccaneers' 2022 schedule, pitting the NFC East champs against the NFC South first-place finishers. And he also sensed he was growing closer and closer to losing to the Cowboys. Why chance spoiling a perfect thing, right?
Why, in 2019 with the Patriots, Brady engineered but a 13-9 victory over the Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on a day more fit for polar bears than football. And while the Cowboys somehow finished the game kicking three field goals, the Patriots scored only one touchdown, that set up by a blocked punt recovered at the Cowboys 12-yard line that Brady promptly two plays and 43 seconds later turned into a 10-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Brady also needed a Patriots interception to set up one field goal, a Cowboys missed field goal and the Cowboys having to settle for another after reaching a first-and-10 at the New England 14-yard line with 7:08 left in a 13-6 game played in nearly four quarters of driving rain and a 20-mph wind lowering the wind chill into the 20s.
The Cowboys oh-so close to handing the Patriots just their second loss in 11 games and Brady's first against them.
Then this season, the NFL season opener at Raymond James Stadium when the Buccaneers raised their Super Bowl Championship flag in Tampa, Fla., that Thursday night when Dak Prescott nearly outdueled Brady, throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns and having the Cowboys in a 29-28 lead with just 1:24 left after Greg Zuerlein's 48-yard go-ahead field goal.
But you knew it, didn't ya? Too much time left for Brady. And sure enough, in surgical fashion, Brady drove the Bucs from their 25 to the Cowboys 18 in just 1:17 to set up Ryan Succop's game-winning 36-yard field goal with just two seconds remaining.
The Cowboys again oh-so close to ruining perfection, but for a second straight time getting closer to beating him. No sense giving them another shot. Better just retire.
And now taking out my tongue dug squarely into my cheek.
- Five Easy Pieces: Listen carefully, please, to what Stephen Jones had to say at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday when talking about keeping the continuity on offense, regardless of what might transpire with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore: "It's a quarterback driven league. We feel like we have one of the best in the business, if not the best. It's all about him. We've got to continue to put the pieces around him. That's why I mentioned things like the running game and cleaning up the penalties. All those things are just going to put Dak in better situations to be successful to win football games for us that he's shown he can do it at a high level. And if we can do those things, we won't put him in some of those tough situations we've put him in this year." Amen to that, agreeing with my notion the quarterback is not out there playing singles.
- No Phony Cap: When asked if the Cowboys will be able to manage the salary cap going forward without making any tough decisions, Stephen did not mince words, saying, "Oh, we're going to have to make some tough decisions. We're not going to be able to keep everybody we'd like to keep," going on to point out that's what happens when you have a quarterback like Dak, and the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, two Pro Bowl offensive linemen, a No. 1 receiver, three "great receivers. … The cap is a real thing." Sure is, and the Cowboys don't have a lot of money to go out there speculating in free agency, panning for gold, let alone keeping their own guys they'd like to keep. Toughest decisions might center on the receiver position. So many think the Cowboys can easily create room by simply releasing Amari Cooper and his $20 million base salary but incurring $6 million in dead money over these next two years. But here is the problem: Cooper's $20 million base salary is guaranteed the fifth day of the league year, so like March 21. But do that, and if nothing transpires before that, the only top receiver the Cowboys would have under contract at that point would be CeeDee Lamb since Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson are set to become unrestricted free agents. That would be taking a leap of faith that early in the offseason without knowing what's next.
- Hail To The Commanders? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? And wonder if the erstwhile Redskins were the now Commanders back in 1959, would Cowboys original owner Clint Murchison Jr. have bought the rights to Washington's fight song, "Hail To The Redskins," in order to coerce then owner George Preston Marshall into voting to approve a new NFL franchise in Dallas? Remember, Marshall acquiesced since that was his wife's favorite song. The Cowboys got his vote. And Marshall his fight song back. Can't rewrite history, right? It's taken a while for this name transition to take place, but thank goodness we don't have to continue referring to that franchise in the nation's capital as Washington Football Team, or you guys having to put up with me calling them the "Washingtons" anymore. And if you want to find out why it's taken Washington this long to come up with a new nickname, catch my buddy and co-author John Keim's piece on ESPN.com. Quite enlightening.
- My Choice: If I were the Saints, my choice to replace Sean Payton as head coach would be Aaron Glenn, the Lions' defensive coordinator scheduled to interview Wednesday for the job. One of my favorite former Cowboys players, the cornerback playing for Parcells back in 2005-06. Always thoughtful, insightful and engaging enough for other players to follow. Plus, the 15-year veteran played for five different teams, so he's been around different head coaches and different defensive systems. And the 49-year-old native of Humble, Texas, has been an assistant coach for the past eight years, including five with the Saints under Payton (2016-20), and this past year served as Detroit's defensive coordinator. On top of that, Glenn spent two seasons as a New York Jets personnel scout, the team drafting him with a first-round pick (No. 12) out of Texas A&M in 1994.
- Here's Why: As in why Jimmy Garoppolo figures the 49ers will trade him even after leading them to the 2019 season Super Bowl and this year to the NFC title game. He is in the last year of his contract with a non-guaranteed base salary of $24.2 million base, an expiring no-trade clause and just $1.4 million in dead money. Plus, the Niners didn't use the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on quarterback Trey Lance to be a backup for another year. And even though he played very little this season, appearing in six games with two starts, head coach Kyle Shanahan says, "Having him here for a whole year, I feel stronger about (his abilities to be a starting quarterback). He's got the ability to do it. He's got the mind to do it. And I think he's the type of person who can handle all the stuff that goes with it."
For this week's last word, let's go back to Stephen Jones when asked about needs in free agency. Although pointing out it's too early to discuss their many needs, he said, "Our goal is to keep our guys. We've got a lot of work to do this offseason."
No kidding, with a total of 24 guys scheduled for three levels of free agency and not near enough cap money available.