Can Brady really play until 45?

When the Patriots drafted Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, some believed the team was targeting an eventual replacement for Tom Brady, who was 33 at the time.

If that was indeed the plan, the veteran quarterback made it clear he doesn’t expect it to happen any time soon, as he proclaimed last year that he wants to continue playing for 10 more seasons.

Brady has altered his future plans slightly, telling Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he’ll play “until they tell me they don't want me anymore.''

Appearing on WEEI earlier Monday afternoon, one of Brady’s most trusted receiving targets, Wes Welker, declared that he has no doubt that the quarterback could continue to play for another 10 years. (Full audio of the interview available HERE).

That would mean a career spanning until the age of 45 for Brady, which would put him in rare company amongst NFL players.

In fact, should Brady stick around that long as a starter, he’d become the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history, surpassing three players who started at age 44 – Warren Moon, Steve DeBerg, and Vinny Testaverde.

DeBerg spent his final season with the Falcons, starting one game in 1998. Moon similarly started one game while suiting up for the Chiefs in 2000, while Testaverde managed six starts for the Panthers in 2007.

Only one quarterback, George Blanda, played past the age of 44. Blanda, who was primarily a kicker in the latter portion of his career, retired at the age of 48 as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer (he has since been surpassed on the list).

Welker credits Brady’s preparation and approach to everything in his life as a reason he has been able to be such an effective player for so long.

“In every decision he makes and everything he does – from what he eats, to what he drinks, to what his traveling schedule is – everything is centered around football. Everything … Every decision he makes is literally towards being a better football player,” he said.