Why the NFL Needs Tom Brady Rules

The league needs crystal clear guidelines outlining his limitations of access as part of a broadcasting crew if he intends to still play football at some point or become a fully recognized minority NFL owner.
Brady signed a 10-year, $375 contract to be Fox's lead NFL color commentator.
Brady signed a 10-year, $375 contract to be Fox's lead NFL color commentator. / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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Tom Brady said this week that he would “not be opposed” to coming back as an emergency quarterback at some point this season, which is a fine aspiration to have. He is also pursuing active NFL ownership, which is also a fine aspiration to have. And he’s preparing to be Fox’s lead color commentator, which is another neat and fine aspiration for a player to have during his post-playing career.

But before Brady considers them all simultaneously, the NFL must come out with a crystal clear set of guidelines outlining the limitations of his access as part of a broadcasting crew if he intends to still play football at some point or become a fully recognized minority NFL owner. This can not be left the least bit nebulous heading into Brady’s first season in the booth. With Brady also providing the blueprint for entrepreneurial quarterbacks of the future, we could almost certainly face a situation such as this again. 

Look, NFL broadcasting is not beholden to the standards of the Pulitzer Prize committee. We have former players brazenly defending their old teammates and past coaches and golf buddies and investment partners and sources on a regular basis. The audience is so regularly deprived of anything resembling the truth that the minute we get an honest assessment from someone, that broadcaster is viewed as a breath of fresh air.

NFL ownership, too, is not quite the country club it’s made out to be. If there was really a concern over stewardship of the game, I’m sure some of those recently assigned to their posts would have thrown off red flags years ago (I think Brady will be a great owner; I’m just saying the process isn’t perfect). At the end of the day, the NFL is a less predictable version of World Wrestling Entertainment, which has essentially been a family business for decades, with the current CEO the daughter of the previous CEO (who is also married to one of the other wrestlers). 

However, we are talking about the most anticipated commentary debut in the NFL’s history. Brady will be watched closely. His words will be parsed immensely. His arrival has bumped Greg Olson, one of the medium’s rising stars. If he is actively open to a playing opportunity at some point this season, whilst also the part owner of an NFL franchise, there could eventually develop some concern over brazen impartiality, depending on how the legendary quarterback approaches the job. 

Of course, the NFL may like this. Just like problems with officiating have become a kind of a handy design flaw, which drives ratings and conspiracy theories and, thus, more attention, having Brady assume some ominous, Macy’s Parade float posture over the entire league would be something they could manage. 

It’s important to note that Brady, too, could have just been speaking off the cuff during his appearance on the Deep Cut podcast (or, because he knows the power of his words, said something moderately attention garnering because he seems to have an affinity for the entrepreneurial and considerate young host of the show who uses his platform to raise awareness for mental health, which would be cool and not outside the realm of possibility). He said repeatedly that he doesn’t know if he’d be allowed to play if he was approved as an owner. May this be a fine introduction into how methodically people will be looking into what comes out of his mouth. 

Regardless, owners should have raised eyebrows about Brady as part of an all-access broadcast crew netting him the ability to walk into any facility and glean information applicable to his role as a part owner of the Raiders. This would be doubly true if Brady were to, say, call a Chargers game in Week 9, then sign with the Broncos in Week 11 and face off against a team allowing him to sit in meetings. On the far-less concerning end of the spectrum, we truly want to know what the greatest player in NFL history thinks and believes. It would be a shame for those thoughts, for which he is generously compensated, to be filtered out of some preference for a coach he’d still like to work with, a team he plans to play for, or the club that he owns.

Personally, I’m happy Brady has access to so many mediums that may produce joy and purpose in his life. That’s all we can ever want for ourselves and our loved ones. This is not some kind of residual swipe at a player whose presence I resented in the NFL or anything like that. The NFL just needs to consider all of the little (relatively speaking) sacrifices it’s making, complicating a pursuit of complete integrity, be it with gambling, health and safety, scheduling or any number of other “adjustments” we’ve seen. This is an easy one. This is a yes or a no answer. This is a set of rules that can be followed. These are people who can be gently guided to a solution.

I would absolutely love to see Brady back on a football field. I would love to see Brady spearhead a Raiders dynasty from the ownership suite. But, only in a way in which we could truly enjoy it for the right reasons, and not with the same cynicism that we already approach much of the NFL right now.

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John Pluym


John Pluym is the managing editor for NFL and golf content at Sports Illustrated. A sports history buff, he previously spent 10 years at ESPN overseeing NFL coverage. John has won several awards throughout his career, including from the Society of News Design and Associated Press Sports Editors. As a native Minnesotan, he enjoys spending time on his boat and playing golf.