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Where Do Old QBs Fit in the New NFL?

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Tom Brady was spry, moving nimbly in the pocket and firing passes over and around hapless defenders and into the clutches of his intended targets. The Patriots were unstoppable, and it seemed Brady was embarking on a reign of dominance that would last years, perhaps decades. But that was 2018. A lot has changed since then.

A new wave of quarterbacks, led by reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and unanimous regular-season MVP Lamar Jackson, have captured the collective imagination of the football world, just as aging passers like Brady (age 42), Drew Brees (41) and Philip Rivers (38) have begun to struggle. Now, those three future Hall of Famers are set to hit unrestricted free agency, with the Chargers moving on from Rivers and a real possibility that Brady could also change teams for the first time in his career. That raises a question: Just one year after it looked as if all three could play forever, is there still a place in the NFL for an aging pocket QB?

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To understand the sustained excellence of Brady, Rivers and Brees, you must first understand what lies at the heart of their success. It’s the same thing that’s at the root of all the most exciting things life has to offer: geometry.

Space is limited on an NFL field—far more than at the college level, where wider hashmarks create huge swaths of open field in which solitary defenders can be exploited. The tighter, centered hashmarks in the pros guarantee that every play starts near the middle, creating a claustrophobic feel that’s only enhanced by the 11 all-world athletes patrolling the other side of the line.

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