Historians forever will measure Tom Brady against an older, more talented Manning, but for now let’s compare what their respective teams are getting out of Brady and Eli Manning, both earning about $23 million this season.
Brady has thrown 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions for the 5-0 Patriots. Former Brady stand-in Jimmy Garoppolo triggers the offense for the NFL’s only other undefeated team, the 49ers. The Giants’ $23 million is going to their backup quarterback, benched after starting the season with a pair of losses.
Manning, 38, is in the final year of a four-year contract and will back up rookie Daniel Jones for the fourth consecutive week Thursday night at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots. Manning threw one touchdown pass and two picks in his two starts.
The $23 million the Giants are burning on Manning doesn’t take into account all the uncomfortable aspects of benching a two-time Super Bowl-winning QB. Manning started 210 consecutive games before being benched late in the 2017 season. Benched twice in three years.
No way it will ever come to that for the Patriots and Brady. It’s possible, though not likely, it could end a year too soon. But a year too late? Again, it’ll never come to that.
The Patriots always have paid Brady in a manner that is best for the team and each time it also has been what’s best for Brady. By accepting less money than less productive quarterbacks, Brady has left more room under the cap for the Patriots to build Super Bowl-worthy rosters. And each time he does that, his unblemished image, as squeaky clean as that of any major superstar, shines brighter, as does his ring collection.
Predicting when an athlete will know when his skills are eroding is at best an inexact science. Eli didn’t see it coming. Brady likely will, but there is no guarantee that his love for playing football won’t outlive his ability to perform it a level worthy of starting for a Super Bowl contender.
If Brady doesn’t see it coming, coach Bill Belichick will and will move on from him during an offseason before having to turn him into salary cap-eating reserve.
Each side came away with something it wanted in Brady’s most recent contract negotiations. The Patriots wanted to give him a one-year guarantee and did so. In turn, Brady wanted to be in control at the end of the year and can hold his ability to hold the possibility of bolting via free agency over the Patriots’ heads. He could do that, retire, or accept the Patriots’ next one-year offer. Heading to another team definitely shapes up as the least likely of the three potential outcomes, nearly as far-fetched as overstaying his welcome with the Patriots and a few years down the road being relegated to backup status.
Coming off a nice bounce-back game in a rout of the Redskins in the wake of a rough individual performance in a grind-it-out win in Buffalo, Brady didn’t look at what’s happening with Manning and see his own end.
“How I want it to end? Oh man,” Brady echoed a question at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “I think I’ve had a great career. I mean, it’s an Eli question.”
So he gave an Eli answer, unrelated to his own situation.
“Eli’s been a great player and great for that organization,” Brady said. “We’ve had great battles against their team, certainly in big moments. They’ve got us in the big moments, unfortunately, but they deserved it. Eli’s played great. He’s been a great player for that organization, for the team.
“I think his teammates, he’s got the respect of all those guys, and that’s what you play for. You play for the respect of your teammates and your coaches. They know what you put into it. They know what it means to you. They can feel it. I mean, he’s had an incredible career.”
Manning’s had a good career, Brady a great one. Manning never was a great quarterback, never so far above average that he could afford for his skills to slip a lot and still not find himself in a competition to save his job.
Brady’s still performing at an elite level, in part because the longer he plays, the slower the game playing out in front of him becomes.
He estimated he has averaged 120 practices for the 20 years of his NFL career, which computes to 2,400 practices.
“Football, I would say, is very much like riding a bike for me now,” Brady said. “I mean, I know what to do, I know where to look.”
Practice largely involves using reps to get his offensive teammates to see what he sees in the way he sees it.
“That’s why us being out there as a unit is very important, practicing, executing in practice so you can build confidence, confidence builds trust and trust leads to good execution on the field,” Brady said.