If Tom Brady does in fact sign with a team other than the New England Patriots this offseason, the LA Chargers are one of the teams that are mentioned most as a potential place for him to go.
Many have doubted that Tom Brady would ever leave the only place he has ever known, but it seems like he is ready to finish his career somewhere other than Massachusetts. Jeff Darlington of ESPN recently went as far as to say that he would be stunned (video) if Brady returns to the Patriots.
So that sets the stage. Where does he go to play out his career?
The man that many consider to be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, largely because of his six Super Bowl rings, could finish out his career with the Chargers. There are those that have been connecting the dots between Brady and the Chargers since things started to crumble for the Patriots last season.
This wouldn’t be foreign territory for the Chargers or the team’s fans, though it has been many years since the greatest quarterback in NFL history ended his career with the Chargers.
We have to go all the way back to the year 1973. That season, the Baltimore Colts traded Johnny Unitas to the San Diego Chargers. Unitas started the season for the Chargers, but he was far past his prime.
Up until that point, Unitas was the best quarterback in NFL history. There was very little debate about it. To this day, he still makes any credible top five or top 10 list.
But in 1973, he was 40 years old and in his 18th season in the NFL. The days of him being the best quarterback in the NFL were long behind him and it showed.
Unitas started in the team’s first four games in 1973, completing 34-of-76 passes for 471 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was sacked 14 times, leading to a quarterback rating of 40.0.
After losing three of those four games, the team had seen enough and benched Unitas in favor of a guy who would go down as one of the best quarterbacks in team history, Dan Fouts.
Brady will be 43 years old when the 2020 season starts and though he hasn’t shown any signs of greatly diminished skills, he’s not the player he once was. Time wins every battle.
Another thing that must be taken into consideration is that much of Brady’s success has been due to the great coaching he has received in New England and an organization that is built on winning by putting together the best team, not necessarily by having the flashiest players.
In 1973, the Chargers knew they weren’t getting the best Unitas they could get, but they likely expected much more than they got. Unitas retired after that season.
There are some differences. Unitas was traded to the Chargers while Brady would be choosing to play for them. Brady is going to be smart about his decision, and he won’t go anywhere unless he feels that there is a great chance for success.
While there are some differences between Brady at this stage of his career and Unitas toward the end of his, there are also stark differences.
That said, history does have a funny way of repeating itself.