This is 40: Patriots should rest aging Tom Brady for the first four games of 2017

Tom Brady says he has no plans to retire before turning 40 and that he’ll be back for his 18th NFL season in September. I’m inclined to believe him given that the events of the last 48 hours (winning Super Bowl MVP in an all-time comeback to earn a fifth ring and clinch G.O.A.T. status) would be a perfectly acceptable time to be a little indecisive about the future. Instead, Brady’s gung-ho about it.

So when he does play at 40 (a rarity in the NFL, as you’ll see), how about a radical plan for a radical season: The New England Patriots should sit Tom Brady for the first four games of 2017. Old guys need their rest, and Brady is like a classic car with an odometer getting close to unwieldy. Why not try and preserve him as long as possible?

Brady was forced to sit the first quarter of 2016, and things worked out pretty well, I’d say. The Pats went 3-1 without their QB, Brady’s backup Jimmy Garoppolo got some important reps before getting injured and Brady stayed fresh en route to a 14-1 finish that included the aforementioned Super Bowl title. Given that the AFC East is so weak, New England can surely survive Brady sitting for a predetermined amount of time. Since 2010, the Pats have won the division by three, five, five, four, four, two, three and four games, respectively. Even with a potential season-opening Super Bowl rematch at Gillette in the cards, going 2-2 would be a worst-case scenario and even 1-3 would be survivable.

(Getty Images)
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(The Pats’ schedule features road games at Denver, Oakland and New Orleans. And if the NFL doesn’t schedule Atlanta for that Thursday kickoff game, it’ll be either Kansas City, Carolina or, if Tony Romo signs there, Houston. Assuming those games will be spread out, the four games will be as manageable as in 2016.)

Obvious arguments to the contrary are reasonable. What if the Patriots fall so far behind a hot-starting Dolphins, Bills or Jets team that they can’t recover? What if Garoppolo goes 4-0 and then Brady comes in and struggles? And, hey, it’s never been done before — intentionally sitting out of a player for a lengthy period of time for purposes of rest. It’s unprecedented. The answers: Unlikely, unlikelier and so what? No QB had ever been suspended for the first four games of a season, and the Pats can’t have any complaints about it.

You know what’s also (virtually) unprecedented? A 40-year-old quarterback having a championship-worthy season. Brady’s stellar 39-year-old year was rare. Having a good year at 40 would make him just the second ever. Seriously.

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Consider:

• Only eight quarterbacks have ever started a game in their 40s.

• Those eight played a total of 14 seasons at 40 or above (for instance, Vinny Testaverde counts four times because he started games at 40, 41, 42 and 44).

• Of those 14 quarterbacking years, only three posted a winning record (Sonny Jurgensen went 3-1 for the 1974 Redskins, Matt Hasselbeck went 5-3 for the 2015 Colts and, the king of old quarterbacks, Brett Favre was 12-4 for the 2009 Vikings).

• Only one has played a full season (Favre).

• There’s been just five occasions where a 40-plus QB started more than half his teams games (Favre x2, Warren Moon x2, Testaverde).

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• Favre’s 40-year-old season, when he went 12-4 and threw for 4,202 yards, a 68.36 percent completion rate, 33 TDs and 7 INTs was one of the more amazing seasons in NFL history. It’s also the only year for a 40-plus quarterback that’s even close to great. Moon’s 41-year-old season is closest but falls in the “good” category. The rest either didn’t play enough (Jurgensen) or were bad when they did (Favre at 41).

That Favre season, coming on the heels of his leading the Vikings to within one pass of the Super Bowl, shows how it all goes south so quickly for NFL quarterbacks right around that 40-year-old barrier. Ask Peyton Manning, who went from an MVP-caliber season in 2014 to barely able to stay upright in 2015. (That he won a Super Bowl that last year is both ironic and beside the point.) The moment the Pats find out Brady’s game has slipped it’s already too late. There’s no turning back. Thus, they have to be proactive about keeping him healthy.

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Doing the four games at the start of the season makes more sense than, say, peppering them in throughout the year. This isn’t the NBA with an 82-game canvas with which to play. Imagining the season starts in October and hitting the ground running from there is the most reasonable way to make it work.

I’m serious about this. Yeah, it’s as unlikely to happen as Brady coming clean on Deflategate, but the idea of resting your ancient quarterback makes sense. Brady has played 34 playoff games in his career — two full seasons. He’s pretty much been going nonstop for 15 years. Yes, Tom Brady’s body has never failed him beyond that freak injury in 2008. True, his nutrition, workouts and practice habits make him different from the old, old guys like Jurgensen, who was spending weekend nights at The Dancing Crab, but that only goes so far. NFL time waits for no man, even those with a fistful of rings.