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Tom Brady, having just turned 33 on Tuesday, remains the face of the Patriots and likely the most important player on the team. Having his first healthy off-season since the infamous knee injury in 2008, one would think that the start of this pre-season would be a happy return to his craft, but that has become somewhat clouded by the ongoing contract negotiations.
As a quick refresher, Brady took over the reigns at quarterback after Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game in Week 2 of 2001. Brady came in late in that game as an untested second-year sixth-rounder. At this time, the Patriots had been playing poorly for several years, and it looked like it would be another lost season.
However, Brady went on to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory, despite Bledsoe being healthy enough to return during the playoffs. Since then, Brady has collected two more Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and is now mentioned as one of the top quarterbacks in the history of the game.
On his career, Brady has thrown for over 30,000 yards and 225 touchdowns with only 99 interceptions. He has completed 63 percent of his passes and has a career passing rating of 93.3, currently good for sixth on the NFL all-time career leaders list.
Brady’s 2007 season was arguably one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had. Although the Patriots just missed out on the perfect season, losing in the Super Bowl, Brady finished with 4,806 yards (3rd most all-time) and 50 touchdowns (most all-time) versus only eight interceptions, and a 117.2 passer rating (2nd most all-time). He became the first NFL MVP in Patriots history and was honored with numerous other awards.
After a season lost to injury in 2008, the 2009 season was a bit of a disappointment for Brady’s standards. Although he finished with a 96.2 passing rating and threw for over 4000 yards, he also only threw 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. These numbers would be considered more than acceptable for most quarterbacks, but many commented that he lacked the same decisiveness with his throws. There were also several times during the season when it looked as though he was about to put together a classic Brady drive where he would march down the field and score the winning points in the last few minutes, but he instead faltered and the game slipped away.
Going into this season, there is reason for optimism, but Brady’s situation is complicated by the ongoing contract negotiations.
All contract negotiations going on right now are complicated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement that is currently being negotiated. There are many competing interests for both the players and owners.
Brady is an assistant representative in the players’ association, meaning that he cannot simply accept a below-market contract because that would be seen as setting a precedent for future negotiations that is lower than what other players think is fair. On the flip side, Robert Kraft is considered one of the leaders among owners, so if he were to hand out a unprecedentedly large contract, he would be seen as giving up leverage in the CBA negotiations. Without even accounting for the normal factors that complicate negotiations, its easy to see that these are particularly complicated.
There have been various reports that negotiations were going poorly, but others that have refuted those. One thing is for sure, Brady is not the type of player to miss playing time for the sake of a new contract, or even vent his unhappiness.
“My personal feelings are my personal feelings, and certainly I don’t want to express them with anybody other than very few people,” he said at the beginning of training camp. “It doesn’t do any good. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t help this team. It doesn’t help the organization. Really, it gets in the way to me.”
Though these negotiations are obviously complicated, the overwhelming majority of people close to the team believe that the situation will be resolved without Brady playing outside of New England any time soon. Brady spoke about those on the other side of the negotiating table in glowing terms recently.
“I’ve always been privileged to play for Coach Belichick, who I’ve always said is the best coach in the history of the league. And Mr. Kraft, I have a great relationship with him,” Brady said. “I just really enjoy playing quarterback for this team. I have since the day I stepped on the field.”
Putting the contract situation aside, there are many reasons to be optimistic about this season from Brady’s perspective.
Although many felt last season was a bust for Brady, the final numbers were actually very good. Being two seasons removed from major knee surgery now, he is expected to have a higher comfort level. He mentioned recently about how nice it was to have a full off-season of training, and he reported early to camp with the rookies.
Furthermore, he has more weapons at receiver this year. Last season the Patriots’ offense struggled most in the red zone. This was addressed when the team used two early draft picks on tight ends this year, Rob Gronkoski and Aaron Hernandez. Brady will also have Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate to throw to who, and both were only rookies last season. Edelman was playing wide receiver for the first time in his life after playing quarterback in college and Tate was injured most of the year, so improvements are expected. Lastly, the team signed Torry Holt and just drafted receiver Taylor Price, who has been impressive in camp so far.
It has also been reported that Brady played with a broken finger and multiple broken ribs last season.
Hoyer, 24, was a little-known undrafted free agent out of Michigan State last season. Prior to the season starting, it seemed likely that he would be cut or a potential practice squad candidate, with an outside shot at sticking as a third quarterback.
However, Hoyer obviously impressed in training camp and performed well in his time in pre-season games, since the coaching staff made the decision to keep him as the lone backup to Brady. He made only 5 appearances in games last season, mostly in garbage time situations, but performed adequately, posting a passing rating 82.6 and completing over 70 percent of his passes. He threw no touchdowns nor interceptions.
He figures to be the top backup at quarterback again this season.
The only other quarterback currently on the roster is Zac Robinson, who was drafted in the seventh round this year out of Oklahoma State. Little is known right now about the 23-year-old, but he has had an up-and-down camp so far, according to reports. He shined early in camp in an “opportunity session,” hitting fellow rookie Taylor Price in stride on a long pass, but also threw three interceptions in a practice session more recently.