Less than a year removed from his legendary playing career, Tom Brady evidently is not impressed with the current level of play in the NFL.
"I think there's a lot of mediocrity in today's NFL. I don't see the excellence that I saw in the past," Brady said during an appearance Monday on "The Stephen A. Smith Show."
Brady, who retired earlier this year after a record-setting 23-year career, cited numerous reasons for his evaluation of the game, including coaching and player development.
"I think the coaching isn't as good as it was," Brady said. "I don't think the development of young players is as good as it was. I don't think the schemes are as good as they were.
"The rules have allowed a lot of bad habits to get into the actual performance of the game. So I just think the product in my opinion is less than what it's been."
Scoring in the NFL has declined for the fourth consecutive season in 2023; teams are combining to score just 43.3 points per game, down from 43.8 last season and 45.9 in 2021. The league is on pace for its lowest-scoring season on average since 2009, when teams combined for 42.9 points per game.
One likely cause of the scoring decline is a high number of injuries to quarterbacks. Joe Burrow, Kirk Cousins, Deshaun Watson and Anthony Richardson headline the growing list of franchise quarterbacks who have suffered season-ending injuries, while other stars at the position -- including Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray -- have missed significant time.
Brady acknowledged the physicality of the sport but bemoaned recent rule changes designed to protect players from injury.
"I look at a lot of players like Ray Lewis and Rodney Harrison and Ronnie Lott and guys that impacted the game in a certain way -- and every hit they would have made would have been a penalty [today]," Brady said. "You hear coaches complaining about their own player being tackled and not necessarily -- why don't they talk to their player about how to protect himself? ... We used to work on the fundamentals of those things all the time. Now they're trying to be regulated all the time.
"Offensive players need to protect themselves. It's not up to a defensive player to protect an offensive player. A defensive player needs to protect himself. ... I think a lot of the way that the rules have come into play have allowed this -- you can essentially play carefree and then if anyone hits you hard, there's a penalty."
Brady, 46, is the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. The seven-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP said he doesn't think "the athletes have changed much" since he started his NFL career in 2000, pointing instead to development at the college level.
"I actually think college players were better prepared when I came out than they are now," he said. "Just because so many coaches are changing programs, and I would say there's not even a lot of college programs anymore. There's a lot of college teams, but not programs that are developing players.
"So as they get delivered to the NFL, they may be athletic, but they don't have much of the skills developed to be a professional. When I played at Michigan, I essentially played at a college program that was very similar to a pro environment. When I see these different players come in, they're not quite as prepared as they were, and I think the game has shown that over the last 12 to 13 years. I think things have slipped a little bit."