Considering what a transcendent talent Tom Brady is, the career he's had, and that he turns 36 in 11 weeks, this statement he made to me over the weekend is significant: "Going into my 14th year, I have never had more confidence in how I am throwing the football. I've never felt better throwing the football."
It's May. Brady has averaged 36 touchdowns, eight picks and 4,654 passing yards over his last three seasons, and he feels better about his arm and his mechanics than he ever has. Were those shudders I just felt coming out of Orchard Park, Florham Park and South Florida?
Brady doesn't talk much in the offseason, and in the past few years he's come out of his shell around this time to talk about his charity of choice: Best Buddies, a worldwide volunteer movement that fosters friendship between the larger society and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and engenders employment opportunities for them. This is the 12th year he's been the honorary chairman for the weekend event (May 31 - June 1, Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port) that includes a touch football game at Harvard on Friday and 50- and 20-mile bicycle events on Saturday. The Massachusetts event raises more money in a weekend ($3 million last year) than any other Best Buddies fundraiser worldwide. "It's one of the highlights of my year,'' Brady said. "Playing football is not curing cancer, and it's not helping people with intellectual disabilities. So when I leave Hyannis Port on Saturday afternoon, you feel like you've made a difference in people's lives.''
Brady said, "Friendship and support from friends and family is so important to succeeding in life. We take friendship for granted. A lot of these kids are the ones who don't have those friends, who get made fun of in school. It's so important to give them a hand. I hope I can participate in this for the rest of my life -- and I want my kids to participate too. Look at what Boston did a month ago, with so many stepping up after the bombing at the Marathon. So many people at this Best Buddies event step up and do something important here for these people who need their help."
Good for him -- and while we're on the subject of good deeds in New England, here's another one: A 33-member contingent of current and former Patriots, and coaches and staff, got on buses from Foxboro Saturday morning for the 150-mile ride to Newtown, Conn., to hold a football clinic for the kids of Newtown. Owner Robert Kraft, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, tight end Rob Gronkowski and captains Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater were on hand. The coaches and players ran eight stations that 400 kids rotated through, while their parents watched from the stands. When one kid asked where Brady was, Kraft got him on the phone and passed it around to several kids so they could all say they talked to Brady. A good day, and a good bit of community service by the Patriots.
Back to Brady, and his mechanics. After his throwing guru, Tom Martinez, died 15 months ago, Brady was put in touch with former major-league pitcher Tom House (who got into quarterback-tutoring through friend Cam Cameron), and House took over the fine-tuning of Brady's throwing technique.
"I owe so much to Tom Martinez,'' Brady said. "He taught me so much about how to play the game and throw the football. He was so committed to me for so many years. I miss him every time I step on the field. I found Tom House, and really developed a rapport with him quickly. I've learned, and to me, the learning process is fun. The same way Tom Martinez was always there to watch and give me corrections, Tom House has told me why certain corrections need to be made. Look at a baseball swing and a golf swing. It's all mechanics. Look at how Barry Bonds swings. Look at how Floyd Mayweather punches. Mechanics. When you've got to fit it into the tightest windows, mechanics are crucial. And to me, the offseason is crucial. If you make a throw within four feet, that's not going to be good enough. You have to make the throw within four inches of your target. That's good enough. And that's why the mechanics you adjust and learn in the offseason are important. You're going to keep them during the season.
"Tom House, pretty soon after the season, said basically, 'All right, Tommy. Get to work.' That's the one thing that helps me move forward. There's nothing we can do about losing the championship game to the Ravens. It sucks. You move on. But, with Tom, I think I've learned some things this offseason that are really going to help me.''
I said, "Be specific -- give me one thing, or two things you feel are going to help you this year.''
"One thing,'' he said. He paused. "Well ... I hate to ... well done is better than well said. I'd rather not say. I want people to watch and see if they notice.
"Over the years, I was a little inefficient and I learned how to get away with it. I've been working with Tom House on what's called ground-force production ... Kinetic sequencing, getting the power from the ground, which translates from the ground to your legs, to your hips, to the shoulder, and all the energy is going toward the target. I've always had confidence throwing the football, but you have to stay on top of it. That's going to be a never-ending quest for me.
"I'd say 98 percent of it is exactly what Tom Martinez taught me. This other 2 percent is nothing between the ears, we're just talking about a couple of things. Coach Belichick teaches me about what to expect from defenses. [Offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] is always teaching me about offensive plays and drops. I like that, just like I like this work with Tom House. Once you feel like you're done learning, you might as well move on.''
The Patriots are 39-9 in the last three years, but they're not measured by the regular season. They haven't been in a long time. The measure comes in the postseason, and losses to the Jets, the Giants and the Ravens have ended their last three years in crushing ways. Brady's doing what he can to up the ante this offseason, apparently. Is the defense doing the same? The receiver group? Belichick the drafter?
The Patriots' three Super bowl wins were all by three points. The two Super Bowl losses were keyed by a Velcro catch by the Giants' fifth receiver, and, in the second loss, a Wes Welker missed catch and an underthrown Brady pass that was picked off. Remember: There's been a very fine line between Super Bowl wins and losses for New England. Without a franchise pass rusher or corner this season, the Patriots are likely to be as dependent on Brady as ever. Or more.
BURKE: Each team's most pressing question
Speaking of 35-year-old quarterbacks ...
How do you not feel sick for David Garrard?
Twenty months ago, a week before the 2011 season, Garrard was Jacksonville's starting quarterback. Out of the blue, two hours after he was introduced at the team's fan luncheon as the starter, then-coach Jack Del Rio called him in and cut him, preferring to go with rookie Blaine Gabbert.
Nine months ago, before the 2012 season in Miami, Garrard was leading in the quarterback derby with rookie Ryan Tannehill until the veteran QB needed arthroscopic knee surgery. Rather than wait for him to get well, Miami cut him, handing the job to Tannehill.
Last week, again looking like he had a good chance to be a starter, this time with the Jets, his balky knee kept ballooning after even slightly strenuous workouts. With a wife and three young children back home in Jacksonville, Garrard decided to stop fighting his physical shortcomings. He quit.
Three seasons, three teams, three chances to be the starter. And nothing.
"You a little heartbroken?'' I asked him Saturday.
"Absolutely!'' he said over the phone from Florida. "How could I not be? Talk about an emotional roller coaster in the last couple of years. I experienced the highest of highs, thinking I was going to play for all three teams. Then I was down and out."
But Garrard was an adult about it. "You always hear, 'Play 'til the wheels fall off,' '' he said. "Not me. I've got a wife and three beautiful kids who rely on me. I want to be there for them, and as healthy as I can be. I knew if I kept trying to play, it wouldn't end well. I knew it was going to come to an end sometime -- now is just earlier than I thought. But it's tough.''
Other than the obvious, Garrard has one other regret. He said, unlike the perception from last August in Miami, he didn't injure himself at the pool with his kids. He said he was struggling with his knee during Dolphins training camp, and his needing arthroscopic surgery -- which caused the Dolphins to cut him -- was from normal wear and tear of training camp, exacerbated by a pivot on the deck of the pool. That's his version of the story.
"I was home, resting by the pool, and I turned to see my son, and by just pivoting around, I aggravated it,'' he said. "It's not true at all that I was in the pool, playing with my kids. I guess being on Hard Knocks, or whatever, with all the attention we had, some version of the story that wasn't true got out.''
This year, Garrard said his knee -- which was already missing much of its cartilage, causing bone-on-bone friction -- just never felt right. "I couldn't jog most days,'' he said. "I could barely walk around without it hurting. And we weren't even in the strenuous part of camp yet. I figured, 'No way I can just take every fourth day off.' I went to see Rex [Ryan], and I just told him I didn't think I could do it. He didn't want to hear it. But I just told him what the doctor said -- it's only going to get worse. And that was it.''
Garrard said Ryan told him he'd make a great coach, and he's thinking about interning on the coaching staff this summer at camp. "I was excited to be able to work with Geno and Mark,'' Garrard said.
Lots of Jets fans were hoping he'd actually beat out Geno Smith, the rookie, and Mark Sanchez, the very shaky incumbent, and start the season. As was Garrard.
"I knew I was going to play great,'' Garrard said. "I knew I would have proven I was a good starting quarterback in the NFL."
Now it's Sanchez and Smith, perhaps with an interesting summer tutor. That's not the summer job David Garrard had in mind.
BURKE: When will this year's rookie QBs first play?
A home for Freeney.
After playing standup outside linebacker last year for the first time in the NFL in the Colts' new 3-4 defense, free agent Dwight Freeney wanted to go back to the good ol' 4-3. But he couldn't find a match that would pay him anywhere near what he felt his market value was -- $6 million a year. It took the Chargers losing second-year pass rushing outside linebacker Melvin Ingram to an ACL injury last Tuesday for the Freeney talks with San Diego to get serious. And Saturday, he signed a two-year, $8.75 million deal that can rise to $6.5 million a year, but only if he's the same Freeney who was a double-digit sacker with the Colts in his prime.
In truth, most who call themselves 3-4 teams are hybrid-front teams anyway. As Freeney told me via text this weekend: "They'll run both. They're willing to feature me and free me up to make plays. And they're going to put me in good matchups in the 3-4.''
His sack total fell from 8.5 in 2011 to 5.0 last season, though his pressure production wasn't significantly diminished. His combined sacks-hits-pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com, was 49 in 2011 and 47 last year.
I thought all along that Freeney was a reasonably priced gem in this year's free-agent crop. To get a player with his pedigree and experience for $4.4 million a year, and limited guarantees, is very good replacement value for San Diego. I'm already looking forward to Weeks 10 and 15, when Freeney will be chasing fellow AFC South transplant Peyton Manning in San Diego-Denver games.
BURKE: Position battles to watch this offseason
Quote of the Week I
"You will never see me. Somebody else might do some things, but not me. I text, though. I got to the point where I can text, I can call and do those things. So I'm getting pretty good. I really don't want anyone to know what I'm doing. I really don't think what I'm doing is that important. People don't have to know what I'm doing. It's no one's business but mine.''
-- Mike Ditka, on why he will not use Twitter, to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Quote of the Week II
"I'm not having the bad dreams like I was. But I do suffer from fatigue. I do have trouble with memory. And I still have this tremor. But one thing the doctor told me the second time I went to see him -- he compared the first meeting with the second -- he said, 'You're not any different than you were six months ago when we talked.' He said, 'If you can stay even with this thing, you're making progress.' So I have to just continue to work and do the exercises for the physical part of this, for the balance. There's more than motion involved here. There's the dreams, fatigue, trouble with memory, that type of thing. There's more to it. You can suffer from any one of those things and still have the disease. We're just doing what we can to make people aware."
-- Hall of Fame tackle and former NFL coach Forrest Gregg, 79, to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, discussing the impact of Parkinson's disease on his daily life.
Quote of the Week III
"There's no real sense the sky is falling in Cleveland and that Haslam's legal troubles will seriously imperil his ownership.''
--SI.com's Don Banks, writing on Friday about the state of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam's stewardship of the team. Informative read.
Stat of the Week
Jets fans, don't despair. I know you had your hearts set on a healthy David Garrard to be the bridge between 2013 and Geno Smith taking over the job in 2014. But this is the year -- or at least the summer -- of Mark Sanchez. It's doubtful Smith will do enough to win the Jets' starting job before camp breaks in August. Comparing what might have been (the last two years of Garrard, playing for the Jaguars in 2009 and 2010) to what Sanchez produced in his last two years for the Jets:
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Good Luck Mike Smith With Roll Call Dept.:
The Atlanta Falcons do not have a John or George or David or Chris or Daniel or Mark -- six of the 20 most common male names in the United States, according to the 2000 Census -- on their current 90-man roster.
They do, however, have players with these first names: Malliciah, Kroy, Shann, Kemal, Joplo, Stansly, Micanor, Saeed, Terren, Levine, Jacquizz, Roddy and Peria.
They don't have a Phillip or a Keith, but they have a Phillipkeith.
GALLERY: Rookies at NFL minicamps
Reddi-Wip Factoid of the Week That I'm Certain Does Not Interest Only Me
According to WAVE TV in Kentucky, a homeless man hid in a Kentucky grocery store at closing time, waited until the last employee was out of the place, then ate six steaks, smoked some cigarettes, drank some beer, consumed the contents of 57 cans of Reddi-Wip, soiled himself, changed clothes, climbed into the rafters of the stores and proceeded to fall asleep. He was arrested the next morning.
NBA Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
In his last 10 games (maybe not just of the season, but of his career), 40-year-old Knicks guard Jason Kidd played 188 minutes, went 0-for-17 from the floor, and scored a total of zero points.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Best thing about living in Manhattan: walking.
I was in a hurry twice in the past week. The first time, I was rushing from my East Side apartment to the SI offices in midtown. It's a walk of about 17 minutes. I didn't have 17 minutes. Midday. Jumped in a cab. Got three blocks. Turned right onto 51st Street. Sat for a minute. Big bottleneck at 51st and Lexington ahead. Inched forward through two, three four light changes. Paid the guy. Got out and walked. Aaaargh.
The second time, I was late getting home from the office. About 5:15 p.m. and Avenue of the Americas (you might know it as Sixth Avenue) was a parking lot. I knew I wouldn't save time in a cab. Walked again.
I like walking. It's just that, when you're in a hurry in New York, it doesn't matter. Everything above ground is in quicksand.
Tweet of the Week I
"Oxbow > Tebow''
-- @art_stapleton, who covers the Giants and the NFL for The Record in New Jersey, after the underdog horse stunned the field and won the Preakness on Saturday.
Tweet of the Week II
"I'm still here and always will be. I'm too strong for ridicule and the childish extremes those will do to try and taint a persons name when in reality you make me stronger, hungrier and more determined."
-- @bbwolf94, Buffalo passrusher Mario Williams, in an apparent shot at his former fiancée, Erin Marzouki. The two broke up last November, and she will not return the $785,000 engagement ring he bought for her.
Tweet of the Week III
"This time just a year ago I couldn't even leave Los Angeles County. Now... The world just opened up to... instagram.com/p/ZYzSpWHElu/"
-- @BrianBanksFREE, the free-agent Atlanta linebacker who has gone from a decade of confinement to a free man. Click on that Instagram photo. It's telling.
Tweet of the Week IV
"Sad to see The Office go and while the cast is spectacular, it hasn't been the same without Michael Scott. Like Curb without Larry David."
-- @RaysJoeMaddon, the Tampa Bay manager, showing his depth of TV education.
Love how Maddon can multitask. He can figure a way to survive with David Price on the DL at the same time as watching the last episode of The Office.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1.I think I'd be surprised if when the 50th and 51st Super Bowls are announced in Boston on Tuesday, the sites chosen are not Santa Clara and Houston, in that order.
2. I think the problem with even strongly considering South Florida, and giving another Super Bowl to the Dolphins' stadium, is this: The league has emphasized giving Super Bowls to franchises and markets that have either built new stadiums or refurbished needy ones. There are no active plans to improve the Miami stadium. And to hold the 50th anniversary Super Bowl in a stadium that's not among the 20 best (either open or under construction) would go against most everything the league has held dear in its Super Bowl selection process in recent years.
3. I think the early returns on Sean Payton's enthusiasm and verve for the New Orleans Saints job are extremely positive. He's Mr. Positive, from what I hear, instead of Mr. Bitter. That's the best way he could have done this, because it's only so long that you can use the we-got-jobbed speech as motivation for a 10-month offseason, regular season and postseason run.
4. I think players, and their agents, should stop playing the Adderall card. We know a lot of players take it to manage diagnosed ADHD. We know the league cannot say what a player has tested positive for when he is suspended, so whatever a player or his agent says about the cause for a suspension the league can neither confirm nor deny. We also know players are told repeatedly that it's not enough to inform your trainer or team doctor that you're taking Adderall for your attention-deficit disorder; you have to undergo a thorough exam and test by league-approved physicians before being allowed to take Adderall. Maybe Bruce Irvin took Adderall. Maybe he took something else. But it borders on the unbelievable, quite frankly, that virtually every player who is suspended four games for a performance-enhancer immediately blames Adderall -- or, at least, infers that Adderall was the cause. I just don't believe every guy who got a four-game ban took Adderall.
BURKE: 10 players having the worst 2013 offseason
5. I think the Seahawks' six suspensions for positive tests in the last two calendar years -- only five players were sanctioned, because Richard Sherman's ban last year was thrown out due to chain-of-custody issues -- will make the 2014 free-agent period and draft very interesting for Seahawks GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. They'll almost have to draft and pursue Eagle Scouts because of all the recent violations; Seattle will have to show it's serious about acquiring disciplined and mature players.
6. I think now we know the free agent with the most pressure on him in September: Cliff Avril. With no Irvin on the field until Seattle's Oct. 6 game against the Colts, Avril will be Seattle's best pass-rush hope at Carolina, against San Francisco and Jacksonville at home, and at Houston.
BURKE: How will Seahawks replace Irvin's pass rush?
7. I think -- no, I know -- I love the Chiefs hiring Chris Ault, the innovator of the pistol offense, from the University of Nevada, as a consultant to the coaching staff. Too many people view this hire as one to help the Chiefs either adapt the short shotgun or defend against it. Surely that's part of Ault's lure. But it's more. Ault's an imaginative coach, not a one-trick pony. Andy Reid's not going to pigeon-hole Ault into a corner and not listen to what he has to say about the modern game.
BANKS: Which new regime can bring fast turnaround?
8. I think, Brandon Weeden, if you're worried about the Browns signing Brian Hoyer to compete for a quarterback job, you're not the guy for the job.
9. I think it stinks that the Patriots cut defensive Kyle Love, who plays with diabetes. But there are a couple of things about the decision you should take into account. One: Did the Patriots see a diminution of his skills because of his condition? And what's better for Love, who the Patriots clearly lacked trust in? Getting released now, or in late August?
Love got picked up by Jacksonville and will have a chance to win a job in their defensive tackle rotation. If he'd been whacked at the final cutdown, maybe Love would have had a chance to win a job somewhere. Now, especially with Terrence Knighton gone and no defensive linemen drafted by Jacksonville, Love's clearly going to have a better chance to make Jacksonville than he'd have had to make New England.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. You go, Oxbow.
b. David Ortiz, with another Saturday, now has more two-homer games in his Boston career, 38, than anyone -- Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Manny Ramirez, Carl Yastrzemski. Now that's impressive.
c. Vito Lopez: Just another example of a power-hungry fool who forgets why he was elected to public office. If you don't live around New York, you might not want to google Vito. Disgusting fellow.
d. Loved the series finale of The Office. (Don't say I didn't warn you if you've DVRed and haven't watched.) This from a guy who hasn't watched the show in the last two years because the attempts to replace Michael Scott turned it into schlock. But for old time's sake, I tuned in, and it was terrific. The stunning and sudden re-emergence of Steve Carell; one more "That's what she said'' for the record books; Ryan running off with Kelly one last time; Jim and Pam riding off into the Texas sunset (good move, going from Scranton to Austin); and Schrute, one of the best post-Kramer characters in American doofus comedy, finishing his role with aplomb.
e. If I were tweeting, I'd write: The Office finale > Seinfeld finale.
f. Game 6 at Indiana Saturday night: Knicks 34 fouls (at least four in the fourth quarter invisible ones), Pacers 16. Indy was better, according to my hoop-idiot eyes, foul edge or no foul edge, but some of those calls, at the biggest time of the year? Awful.
g. Last two games of the series: Knicks 64 fouls, Pacers 34.
h. Carmelo Anthony gets nervous, or something. I can't tell what it is. But he plays too out of control, and has too little help out there.
i. I still cannot believe that Jason Kidd factoid. Imagine not scoring, playing the equivalent of 46 minutes a game over four NBA games.
j. What a calm goal-scorer Sidney Crosby is.
k. The New Orleans Pelicans: I love that nickname.
l. The Charlotte Hornets: I don't get that nickname.
m. Keep talking, Brittney Griner. A generation of kids needs to hear your message on growing up gay.
n. So glad to see Jarrett Bell getting a shot to do some TV on ESPN. Long overdue for a guy who knows the game well. Adam Caplan and Field Yates too.
o. Coffeenerdness: Rumor has it there's Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf going up in the neighborhood. I can feel the addiction to the vanilla latte coming.
p. Beernerdness: I know I've recommended a good beer when tweet after tweet tells me how good Allagash White is. You're welcome.
The Adieu Haiku
Three-four, or four-three?
For Freeney, that's the question.
Hey dude: Just get sacks.