The shelf life of a QB

Tom Brady broached the subject a few days before the Patriots’ season opener. Asked when he planned to retire, he told a Boston radio station, WEEI: “When I suck. . . . But I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.”

And make no mistake, when Brady starts to suck, he’ll be the first to admit it — like he did after his no-touchdown, two-pick performance in the 2011 AFC title game:

Brady’s remark resonated with Peyton Manning. “That’s a pretty good line,” he said. “I’m kind of the same feel. I don’t have a set number. . . . Yeah, right until you suck — I think that’s a pretty good rule right there.”

With the Patriots and Broncos meeting in Foxboro on Sunday — Brady and Manning’s 16th get-together — it might be a good time to explore the idea of, well, quarterbacks sucking. Bill Simmons touched on it toward the end of his column the other day for Grantland.

“Could a quarterback really play at an All-Pro level at 40 and beyond?” he wrote. “Seems insane. Absolutely insane.

“But with the current rules, why not? Why couldn’t Manning AND Brady knock down that 40-and-over door?”

Actually, the 40-and-over door has already been knocked down. Five years ago, Brett Favre turned 40 in Week 5 and went on to lead the Vikings to the NFC championship game. In fact, he went on to lead them to overtime of the NFC championship game. That’s how close he came to the Super Bowl. It was arguably his greatest season, one that saw him throw 33 touchdown passes, a career-low seven interceptions and post a career-high 107.2 passer rating. And Favre, I’ll just remind you, was the most high-mileage 40-year-old quarterback in history. He’d never missed a start.

So for Manning, 38, and Brady, 37, the bar has already been set. And good luck to both of them trying to match those numbers, should they still be ambulatory at that age. Here’s the short list of quarterbacks who’ve had 30 TD passes, fewer than 10 picks and a 100 rating in a season.

Before Favre there was Warren Moon. In 1997 with the Seahawks, at the ages of 40/41, Moon threw for 25 touchdowns — fifth in the league — in 15 starts and was voted MVP of the Pro Bowl. He was four years older than anybody else in the game.

And let’s not forget the Geezer To End All Geezers. George Blanda was 43 when he put the Raiders on his back for five weeks in 1970 and carried them to four wins and tie — yes, ties

George Blanda, armed and dangerous.

George Blanda, armed and dangerous.

mattered in those days — with his passing and kicking. Granted, he wasn’t the regular quarterback, but three times he came off the bench and threw for crucial TDs. His heroics earned him the Bert Bell Award as the NFL’s Player of the Year.

(When he won POY award, by the way, George said he planned to continue playing “as long as I can contribute to the Raiders’ success and meet with the approval of coaches.” That was the ’70s version, I guess, of “until I suck.”)

Anyway, there you have it: Blanda, Moon, Favre. The “40-and-over door” has already ripped off its hinges. The only question is whether Brady and Manning can outperform these ageless wonders. (And even if they do, George can always say, “Yeah, but did either of them boot a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left to give his team the victory?”)

It is true, though, that, up to now, very few NFL quarterbacks have thrown a pass in their 40s — a mere 17. And just six of them have thrown as many as 100 (Favre, Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Vince Evans, Sonny Jurgensen and Len Dawson). So if Brady and/or Manning manage to have several productive seasons in their 40s, they’ll be breaking new ground.

Indeed, only 10 QBs have thrown as many as 100 passes at the age of 39. Here’s that list. (Note I said “at the age of 39,” not the year “the year they turned 39.” For some guys, “the age of 39” straddles two seasons.)

MOST PASSES THROWN AT THE AGE OF 39

Year(s) Quarterback, Team(s) Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating
2008-09 Brett Favre, Jets/Vikings 523 341 65.2 3,374 18 19 79.6
1995-96 Warren Moon, Vikings 469 277 59.1 3,389 23 14 85.3
2001 Doug Flutie, Chargers 345 191 55.4 2,155 9 15 64.8
1974 Len Dawson, Chiefs 235 138 58.7 1,573 7 13 65.8
1993 Steve DeBerg, Bucs/Dolphins 227 136 59.9 1,707 7 10 75.3
1966-67 George Blanda, Oilers/Raiders 219 95 43.4 1,463 13 19 49.7
2002-03 Vinny Testaverde, Jets 199 124 62.3 1,399 7 2 90.8
1972 Johnny Unitas, Colts 157 88 56.1 1,111 4 6 70.8
1960-61 Charlie Conerly, Giants 155 75 48.4 1,029 8 9 63.1
1973 Sonny Jurgensen, Redskins 145 87 60.0 904 6 5 77.5

Manning, of course, will be 39 next season. Brady is two years away. It’s hard to believe, the way they’ve been playing, that they’ll suck by then. It’s more an issue of: Will they still be upright? In the NFL, even with all the safety measures in place, there are no guarantees.