Tom Brady says NFL is 'a little softer than it used to be'

Tom Brady has quite a few thoughts on the state of the NFL in 2021. We already know what he thinks of the new jersey number rule (he really, really hates it), and he shared more of his opinions on a recent episode of his "Let's Go!" podcast.

Co-host Jim Gray asked Brady about the evolution of quarterbacks from primarily stationary to more mobile, which got Brady off on a rant that no one really expected. 

Here's the transcription via ProFootballTalk:

“I think there’s probably a lot of shortsightedness,” Brady said. “You know, when I hear that a lot, because I’ve heard over the years, you know, ‘Oh, the game is changing,’ and so forth. I think the game changes in different ways, absolutely. It evolves and changes and grows and hopefully it’s getting better. And at the same time I think that there has always been, you know, incredible athletes playing professional football at the quarterback position. Randall Cunningham was an incredible athlete. Kenny Stabler was an incredible quarterback. Roger Staubach was. Michael Vick, I mean, I don’t know if there’s anyone more athletic that’s ever played than Michael Vick. . . . I think it definitely adds an element to the game.

“But at the same time the name of the game is scoring points. So there’s definitely more volatility, I would say, in that style of play over a period of time. You’re definitely more injury prone because you’re out of the pocket. You don’t have the types of protection that you typically have in the pocket. And I would say the one thing that’s probably changed over the years in terms of why it’s probably gone a little more this way is, and I’ve alluded to this in the past, I think they’re calling more penalties on defensive players for hitting, you know, for violent contact. And I think when you’re out of the pocket, you know, we got called on a play [Sunday] where Ryan Jensen's going basically to protect our runner and they throw an unnecessary roughness on an offensive lineman that I don’t think would have been called, you know, five years ago. There’s a lot of plays and hits that are happening on quarterbacks now, that are flags for defensive players, that probably weren’t that way 10 or 15 years ago. So I’d say the game is a little softer than it used to be. I think the defensive players are more on the defensive when they go in to tackle. And I think that’s probably adding to this element of quarterbacks outside the pocket and taking more chances, you know, than they did in the past.”

Brady says NFL has gotten 'a little softer'

There's certainly a lot to unpack in Brady's comments, so let's break everything down into more digestible portions. Here are the main points Brady is making:

  • Brady doesn't believe that the position of QB has evolved toward mobile quarterbacks, since guys like Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick have always been around.

  • He thinks there's a lot of volatility with mobile quarterbacks. They're more injury-prone since they're out of the pocket and don't have the same kind of protection from the offensive line

  • In Brady's opinion, the recent trend toward mobile quarterbacks is due to increased defensive penalties for "violent contact."

  • He doesn't believe those kind of penalties would have been called five, 10, or 15 years ago, and the game is "a little softer than it used to be" due to that.

  • Since defensive players are more worried about being flagged for tackling too violently, quarterbacks have taken advantage of that and are starting to take more risks.

Connecting the mobile quarterback "trend" to the increase in defensive penalties is an interesting way to think about it. And Brady is right that some of the penalties we see today wouldn't have been called 5-15 years ago. But characterizing that as being "softer" is an uncharitable way to look at it. The crackdown on violent tackling is about player safety, both in the short term and long term. The NFL failed to take head injuries seriously for decades, and outlawing those kinds of tackles is a way to help protect players. 

If Brady wants to characterize the NFL finally getting serious about injuries as being soft, that's his right. But he may want to remember that some of those defensive players are coming for him, regardless of whether or not he's out of the pocket. The NFL being "softer" protects him, too. 

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