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Tom Brady’s Three Hall of Fame Careers

OK, so you know already that the greatest quarterback of all time is a first-ballot lock to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame when (if?) he retires. But because of his consistent greatness and supernatural longevity, there's a case to be made that he actually has had three distinct -- and incredible -- HOF careers.

We divided Brady's 21-year career before this season -- 20 with the Patriots, one with the Bucs -- and evaluated all three eras independent from each other to make judgments. Our panel of Hall of Fame voters then gave a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on each of the seven-year spans. You might be surprised by the results.

21 NFL Seasons

Young Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform

The
Underdog

Mid-career Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform

The
Goat

Late-career Tom Brady in a Buccaneers Uniform

The
Immortal


The Overview

Each seven-year era is distinct, but Brady's run of dominance is unprecedented. Here's a 10,000-foot view of his major accomplishments.

 
Young Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform
Mid-career Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform
Late-career Tom Brady in a Buccaneers Uniform
Super Bowl Titles 3 0 4
MVP 0 2 1
Pro Bowl Selections 3 6 5
Super Bowl MVP 2 0 3
First-Team All-Pros 0 2 1

One Stat Over Each Era

Brady's rise and consistency is best shown by tracking his adjusted net yards per passing attempt (ANY/A) since his career began.

*2008 data point is one game due to season-ending injury
Breaking down Brady

The Underdog

C'mon -- you should know Brady's origin story by now. The 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft attempted three passes as a rookie, before a Drew Bledsoe injury in 2001 gave way to the backup Brady. What followed was a run to a surprising Super Bowl XXXVI win and the start of the Patriots' dynasty alongside Bill Belichick.

Brady's regular-season numbers were middle of the road, but he and New England went 12-2 in the playoffs during this era.

The HOF comparisons

Brady's playoff résumé during this era stacks up against the all-time greats' entire careers. His six game-winning playoff drives in this era would rank No. 1 (he has added eight more). Plus, his 12 playoff wins as a starter would rank eighth all time by themselves.

PLAYOFF WINS

8. Tom Brady (2000-06) 12
T-9. Aaron Rodgers 11
T-9. Troy Aikman 11
T-9. Roger Staubach 11
T-13. Jim Kelly 9

PLAYOFF GAME-WINNING DRIVES

T-1. Tom Brady (2000-06) 6
T-1. John Elway 6
T-3. Joe Montana 5
T-3. Eli Manning 5
T-5. Dan Marino 4

The Rivals

Brady's rivalry with the Manning brothers lasted far beyond this era, but this is when Peyton had the upper hand -- during the regular season. Plus, these defenders gave Brady fits.

3
Head-to-Head Wins
Peyton Manning also led the NFL in regular-season touchdown passes, wins and completion percentage, among other stats, during this era.
8.5
Sacks
Jason Taylor sacked Brady 8.5 times in this span. He's one of only four pass-rushers to sack Brady at least 10 times (Aaron Schobel, Cameron Wake and Shaun Ellis).
3
Sacks
Dwight Freeney sacked Brady in three of their first four matchups. Brady once called Freeney the most intimidating defensive player in the NFL.

The Targets

The Patriots' defense got more publicity than the offense during this era, and Brady didn't have stars as his weapons.

Receiving Yards

Regular Season
Playoffs
Troy Brown - 3,919 YDS
3,340
579
Deion Branch - 3,373 YDS
2,744
629
David Patten - 2,546 YDS
2,411
135
David Givens - 2,538 YDS
2,214
324
Kevin Faulk - 2,071 YDS
1,866
205

The major moments

This era of Brady's career was defined by the Patriots' success, and his individual accolades came later.

The Experts’ Votes

Is the first phase of Brady's career worthy of the Hall of Fame? Here's what our voters said:

Thumbs up
JEFF LEGWOLD
ESPN senior writer, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

In the debate of individual accolades vs. honors and team success, the quarterbacks with both are the only real slam dunks in the Hall of Fame process, which makes this Brady era the toughest to consider. This version of Brady doesn't have the stats of the two later eras (though he did lead the league in touchdown passes in 2002 and passing yards in 2005).

Still, there are only three quarterbacks enshrined who played entirely in the Super Bowl era whose teams won at least three Super Bowls with them as starters (Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman). This era would make Brady the fourth.

Thumbs down
SAL PAOLANTONIO
ESPN NFL reporter, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

Only five quarterbacks have won at least two Super Bowl MVPs, and three of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Bradshaw, Montana and Bart Starr. The two others? Brady and Eli Manning. While this seven-year era is no doubt short compared to other Hall of Famers, what Brady did in the playoffs and on the game's biggest stage makes this run first-ballot Hall of Fame- worthy.

Next Brady Era

The GOAT

This is when Brady began to creep into the discussion for Greatest Of All Time, as he and the Patriots began the era with a 16-0 regular season in 2007 before a shocking Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants ended their quest for perfection. Brady won his first MVP that season (he added another in 2010) and set several offensive records. A fluke knee injury in Week 1 the following season ended the Patriots' playoffs streak, but he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2009.

The downside of this era, despite all of the individual accolades? No Super Bowl rings and crushing playoff losses to Eli (twice) and Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco (twice) and Mark Sanchez.

The HOF comparisons

Brady's counting stats in this seven-year era all ranked near the top of the league, and he outproduced a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks' entire careers. His 4,000-yard passing seasons were two more than Kurt Warner had in his time in the NFL. His regular-season touchdown passes also topped Warner's.

4,000-yard passing seasons

T-9. Brett Favre 6
T-9. Dan Marino 6
T-13. Tom Brady (2007-13) 5
T-15. Warren Moon 4
T-18. Kurt Warner 3

Career TD passes

T-38. Tom Brady (2007-13) 212
T-38. Terry Bradshaw 212
T-41. Kurt Warner 208
54. Ken Stabler 194
76. Troy Aikman 165

The Rivals

Brady once called Ed Reed "my kryptonite," while Eli Manning's Hall of Fame case rests almost solely on beating the GOAT twice. And Bernard Pollard will always be linked to Brady's lowest NFL moment.

2
Playoff Losses
Ed Reed and the Ravens ousted the Patriots twice in this span (2009 and 2012).
2
Super Bowl Losses
Eli Manning and the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
1
Severe Knee Injury
Bernard Pollard's low hit in Week 1 of 2008 cost Brady the rest of the season.

The Targets

Brady's connection with Randy Moss helped the wideout set the single-season TD receptions record (23) in 2007, but the additions of Wes Welker (2007) and Rob Gronkowski (2010) helped take him to another level.

Receiving Yards

Regular Season
Playoffs
Wes Welker - 7,997 YDS
6,311
686
Rob Gronkowski - 3,527 YDS
3,204
323
Randy Moss - 3,070 YDS
2,928
142
Aaron Hernandez - 2,316 YDS
1,965
360
Julian Edelman - 1,942 YDS
1,694
248

The major moments

This era included Brady's first two Super Bowl losses -- he's 7-3 overall -- and a major knee injury, but he also cemented his place among the all-time greats.

The Experts’ Votes

How much does not winning a Super Bowl in this seven-year span hurt Brady's Hall of Fame case? Here's what our voters said:

Thumbs up
JEFF LEGWOLD
ESPN senior writer, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

Crossing eras is always dicey in comparing NFL players, so Brady would always be looked at in the context of these pass-happy times when 600-attempt seasons are the norm. His statistics, however, compare favorably to many Hall of Famers, even though this would be his only segment without a Super Bowl title. He and the Patriots played in four AFC Championship Games in his six healthy seasons, and he had two MVP awards and two first-team All-Pro selections.

Brady would likely have to be a HOF finalist for a few years with this statistical profile, but his impact on the game, ranking vs. his contemporaries and the context of how he lifted New England during some roster erosion would push him over the top, even though he didn't win a championship.

Thumbs down
SAL PAOLANTONIO
ESPN NFL reporter, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

There would be vigorous debate over this seven-year span, and I don't think he would make it on the first ballot because of the lack of titles. Still, based on his body of work and MVP awards, I would vote him in. I don't rely solely on numbers; they could get an accounting firm to vote on the Hall if that were the case. I make that argument all the time when the selection committee meets each year.

In January 2020, I was sitting on the Centennial Hall of Fame committee with Bill Belichick when he said he measures Hall worthiness based on "how that individual performs in the critical moments against championship-caliber opponents." So losing two Super Bowls in this phase of his career hurts Brady, but it is not a disqualification. I would vote yes.

Next Brady Era

The Immortal

Brady cemented his legacy in this era, winning three Super Bowl titles with New England -- including the epic comeback against Atlanta in LI and the stunning final-minute triumph over Seattle in XLIX -- and another in Tampa Bay after his free-agency departure from the Patriots. You could argue that this was Brady's best seven-year stretch, made more unbelievable considering that he turned 37 years old at the beginning of it.

While we didn't include Brady's 2021 season -- at age 44 -- this era is no doubt the best statistically and by what matters most to Hall of Fame voters: rings.

The HOF comparisons

Just counting Brady's passing yards in this era alone would put him 51st on the all-time list, barely behind a few modern-day Hall of Famers. He also posted four seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes in these seven years, making his HOF case stronger.

Total passing yards

39. Steve Young 33,124
41. Troy Aikman 32,942
43. Kurt Warner 32,344
51. Tom Brady (2014-20) 30,055
60. Len Dawson 28,711

SEASONS WITH 30 TD PASSES

T-2. Peyton Manning 9
T-2. Brett Favre 9
T-8. Tom Brady (2014-20) 4
T-8. Dan Marino 4
T-12. Kurt Warner 3

The Rivals

Peyton Manning got the best of Brady one last time in his final NFL season, and the Patriots' infatuation with Jimmy Garoppolo accelerated the end to the GOAT's historic career in New England. Brady has missed only four games since his 2008 knee injury, and it came thanks to a judgment handed down from Roger Goodell and the league.

1
Final Matchup
Peyton Manning and the Broncos toppled the Patriots in the 2015 AFC title game. Manning finished his career 3-2 against Brady in the playoffs.
1
Suspension
Roger Goodell and the NFL suspended Brady for four games at the start of the 2016 season because of Deflategate.
No. 62
Pick
The Pats drafted Jimmy Garoppolo as the heir apparent to the 37-year-old Brady in 2014, but he was traded to San Francisco in 2017.

The Targets

Rob Gronkowski caught 42 regular-season touchdown passes from Brady in this era (in New England and Tampa Bay), while Julian Edelman ranks second both in career postseason catches (118) and yards (1,442).

Receiving Yards

Regular Season
Playoffs
Rob Gronkowski - 6,130 YDS
5,180
950
Julian Edelman - 5,730 YDS
4,536
1,194
James White - 3,121 YDS
2,615
506
Danny Amendola - 2,183 YDS
1,602
581
Chris Hogan - 2,071 YDS
1,529
542

The major moments

Brady racked up four more Super Bowl titles and put several records out of reach in this era, putting the finishing touches on a legendary career.

The Experts’ Votes

This era is a Hall of Fame no-brainer, right? Here's what our voters said:

Thumbs up
JEFF LEGWOLD
ESPN senior writer, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

These four Super Bowl wins would equal Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only four-time winners in the Super Bowl era. Plus, the three Super Bowl wins and one MVP award after age 39 are already unprecedented. Brady's teams won four Super Bowls and six division titles, and he led the league in passing yards in 2017 (4,577) and in touchdown passes in 2015 (36).

His four-game suspension for Deflategate would come up in the Hall of Fame discussion, but his unprecedented performance since would still likely make this era worthy of a first-ballot vote.

Thumbs down
SAL PAOLANTONIO
ESPN NFL reporter, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter

This era gets a resounding "yes" on the first ballot, thanks to those four championships and five more Pro Bowls (which puts him at 14 total, tied for the most ever).

Changing teams at age 43 in the middle of a pandemic, cobbling together a title team in Tampa in less than 12 months? That will never be duplicated. It's like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, a feat cherished for all time.

THE WRAP UP

The Verdict

Young Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform

40.7%

Mid-career Tom Brady in Patriots Uniform

86.9%

Late-career Tom Brady in a Buccaneers Uniform

86.8%

We used ESPN's Sports Analytics Team's Hall of Fame projection model to estimate the chances that each of Brady's three eras would be worthy of enshrinement on its own.

The model was trained using the statistical records of other eligible quarterbacks in the modern era and whether or not they have been selected to the Hall. The stats chosen are those that we found to be most predictive in terms of selection, which include: years of tenure, total wins, total yards, yards per attempt, number of All-Pro selections, number of Pro Bowl selections, number of Super Bowl appearances and wins, and number of Super Bowl MVP awards. Passing statistics and total wins were adjusted for era.

The model has correctly predicted 23 of the 24 modern era QB enshrinees, with only Ken Stabler as the incorrect prediction.

HOF probability forecast

+3 AVG YRS
+5 AVG YRS

The first bar represents Brady's current chances to make the Hall of Fame for each seven-year era. The second and third bars show how those chances increase if we add average seasons to each era.

Written by Dane Beavers.

Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Michelle Bashaw, Sean Hintz, Luke Knox, Joey Maese and Miller Safrit.

Web development by Robert Kirkner. Illustrations by Michael Hoeweler. Research by ESPN Stats and Information. Additional assistance from Brian Burke, Sarah Corso, Mike Reiss and Seth Walder.

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Tom Brady provides a firsthand account of his most iconic moments and the pivotal events that paved his journey in the new nine-episode series "'Man in the Arena: Tom Brady." Coming to ESPN in 2021.