Brady can and should play for a long time, in New England

Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady will go down as one of the best, and possibly the most popular sports figure in Boston history.

Shortly after turning 35 years old, Brady reiterated that he would like to play for a "long time" to come. And for New England's sake, I hope he ends his career in nautical blue and new century silver.

Although Brady grew up idolizing Joe Montana, a Montana-like end to his career would be tragic. Brady needs to remain a Patriot until he retires. Seeing him take the field in any other uniform just wouldn't be right. Johnny Unitas played his whole career with the Baltimore Colts, until he was traded to the San Diego Chargers well past his prime. Unitas played his last few games with San Diego in a different hue from the Colt blue fans were so used to seeing him wear.

Joe Namath, whose guarantee in Super Bowl III is still one of the most overblown and over-hyped happenings in NFL history, finished his career not as a New York Jet, but as a Los Angeles Ram. Long before a drunken Namath made a pass at Suzy Kolber on the Giants Stadium sideline, he wore the blue and gold of the Rams. And as previously mentioned, Montana didn't finish his career wearing the red and gold of the San Francisco 49ers, rather the red and gold of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The point I'm making is this: Brady deserves to end his career in red, white and blue, and the Patriots should make sure it happens. This franchise doesn't play games when it comes to aging superstars. If you can't contribute, start heading down Route One. There are no emotional goodbyes, no pity contracts, just a pat on the back and a kick in the rear. And Bill Belichick plays the game the right way. That's how it should be. Contracts shouldn't be drawn up for what you've done for the team in the past, but what you will do for them in the future. Willie McGinest made a great point to Wes Welker this offseason that everyone is expendable at Patriot Place, aside from Belichick and Brady. I hope it remains this way.

Brady is the Patriots. He's the skinny guy with the pizza box in the bowels of the old Foxboro Stadium who told Robert Kraft he would be the best decision the franchise has ever made. And Brady was right. Not to sound like I'm knocking Kraft or Belichick, but Kraft had only gotten the Patriots to one Super Bowl appearance as owner before Brady came along, and Belichick, who went 5-11 in his first year as New England's coach, was considered a mediocre head coach at best before Drew Bledsoe's injury paved the way for Tommy Time. In a way, Brady made Belichick.

This is not a Mike Vrabel or Richard Seymour we're talking about. It's Tom Brady. And although he is aging off the field, his play hasn't suffered on the field. If Brady's skills were declining, he could leave the game gracefully, head to California with his wife, Gisele Bundchen, and begin an entertainment or political career. After all, the world is Brady's oyster. He's already an UGG model. But regarding his play, that is not the case. In 2010, he played better than he ever had before. The touchdown passes didn't match 2007, but Brady was the most efficient passer in the league. Last year was no different. He's still among the best passers and all-around players in the league.

So this is a memo to Nick Caserio, Kraft and Belichick: keep Brady for the long haul. He hasn't slowed down. Make sure his career path is that of John Elway and Dan Marino, not Brett Favre. Keep him a Patriot forever. A Brian Hoyer is not the answer. Ryan Mallett is not necessarily Brady's successor. The next Patriots' franchise quarterback could very well be finishing up high school or starting his college career, because the Brady Era may be long from over.

There is no need to talk about the end of Brady's career because he is still at the top of his game.

And if Brady's at the top of his game, there's only a handful of players in NFL history that can even compare.