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Tom Brady thinks the NFL is getting “a little softer”

He may look young, but he thinks old.

44-year-old Tom Brady, in the latest installment of the Let’s Go! podcast, shouted at some clouds regarding his perception that football has gotten “softer.”

Asked by Jim Gray about the evolution of the position toward mobile quarterbacks, Brady morphed into an off-my-lawn rant about what the game has become.

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 yesterday 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.”

This sounds a lot like Brady’s recent comments that plenty of these fouls result from the failure of offensive players to protect themselves, for example by having quarterbacks throwing a receiver into a big hit that will trigger a 15-yard penalty on the defense.

Regardless, the game has changed. It started in October 2009, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith found themselves getting grilled on Capitol Hill regarding the game’s chronic failure to take head injuries seriously. Combined with lawsuits from former players and a very real concern that parents won’t let their kids play the game at lower levels, the league had to make changes.

Brady’s comments underscore something I’ve been anticipating for years. Eventually, someone with the money to buy an NFL team will instead start a separate league that embraces football the way it used to be, with players signing whatever paperwork they need to sign to waive any claims they could make regarding the risks of playing ‘80s or ‘90s-style football. It would be far more brutal and jarring than today’s game. (Even then, it wouldn’t be nearly as violent as sports like MMA.)

With legalized betting creating an appetite for more sporting events, Brady’s viewpoint may serve only to nudge someone in the direction of starting an old-school football league. It’s a possibility about which the NFL definitely should be concerned.