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Is Tom Brady still a top-five quarterback?

One day after we wondered aloud whether the greatest quarterback of this era could make history by playing effectively beyond his 40th birthday, we’re now asking a much less optimistic question about the man who has to be concerned Peyton Manning’s biggest challenger for that title.

ESPN asked the question this week with an Insider/Pro Football Focus breakdown: Should Tom Brady no longer be considered one of the five best quarterbacks in the game?

It’s a fair question, because Brady, who at 36 is the second-oldest starting quarterback in the NFL, was merely the league’s 17th highest-rated passer at 87.3 in 2013. That placed him below guys like Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Andy Dalton.

Aaron Rodgers has the highest passer rating in NFL history and is smack dab in the middle of his prime, and the younger Drew Brees is coming off a season in which he crushed Brady in every major category. Beyond that, valid arguments could be made in favor of Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Only two of those guys would have to be deemed better than Brady in order to bump the three-time Super Bowl champion out of the top five.

Since winning the MVP in 2010, Brady’s rate-based numbers have generally dropped in consistent fashion year to year.

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That doesn’t bode well for next season, even if he has a healthy Rob Gronkowski and gets more out of Danny Amendola.

Brady still managed to take the Patriots to the AFC Championship last year despite not having Gronk, Aaron Hernandez and anyone recognizable in his receiving corps for all or most of the year. That offensive line is broken down, too.

Brady was given plenty of opportunities to beat the Broncos in that game, because Denver was focused on New England’s running game. But Tom wasn’t terrific and the Pats fell short. It was a clue that Brady had begun to lose it, as well as a sign that opposing defensive coordinators knew that.

And it’s not as though the Patriots have a bad defense. Only nine teams surrendered fewer points than the Pats in 2013, and they’re one of only three teams with 70 or more takeaways since the start of 2012.

Right now, it would be hard to argue that Brady is a better quarterback than Rivers or Ryan, or even Roethlisberger or Romo. Considering that guys like Newton, Wilson and Kaepernick are only getting better, I think it’s safe to conclude that — at this moment — Tom Brady is not one of the league’s five best pivots.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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