Brady, Pats deal benefits both sides

BY Peter Schrager • February 26, 2013

As Sports Illustrated first reported Monday afternoon, quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have agreed upon a three-year contract extension valued at $27 million, essentially assuring Brady will be a Patriot for life.

The 35-year-old, three-time Super Bowl champion was already signed through 2014, and this extension keeps him on the New England payroll until 2017, when he’ll be 40. In signing the extension, Brady helped clear nearly $15 million from the Patriots’ salary cap.

The initial media and Twitter reaction to the deal was that Brady was taking some sort of hometown discount and leaving a large sum of money on the table for the betterment of the team. This was Brady’s “gift” to Patriots fans.

"Hearing the news about Tom is a reminder of why he is the definition of a team player," Patriots corner Devin McCourty wrote on Twitter less than an hour after the deal was reported.

Let’s tap the brakes, here.

I’d like to offer some caution before jumping to the conclusion that Brady “took one for the team” on this deal. Could Tom Brady have garnered a bigger contract on the open market? Perhaps. But at 37 years old in 2014, the year he’d be a free agent, I’m not sure any teams would be willing to break the bank on him. Also, the new deal has an interesting wrinkle in it as well. Brady’s additional $27 million, according to numerous sources, will reportedly all be guaranteed. So, instead of having an uncertain future and the potential of being forced to sign with a lesser quality team in 2014, he’s now set to make $60 million guaranteed over the next five years from the Patriots.

That’s not exactly cheap labor.

It’s all in the accounting, really. Brady’s going to get the same money he would have gotten; he’s just getting it in a different contract than the ones we tend to see.

And what have we learned from NFL veterans? If they want new deals, they always have the option to hold out and demand more. If Brady has two huge statistical seasons over the next two years and looks like the Tom Brady of 2007, there’s nothing in the contract that says he can’t hold out and demand new terms.

Brady took a deal that certainly helps the Patriots in terms of salary cap, but he didn’t exactly sign up for Mike Bloomberg’s $1 a year salary, either.

Furthermore, I’m not so certain that the Patriots didn’t actually have the leverage over Brady on this one. I look at the Green Bay Packers in the latter half of the 2000’s. For three years, Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre, and when the time came, Ted Thompson chose the young quarterback they’d been grooming over the veteran nearing 40. The Packers front office took a beating from the fans at first, but five years later it’s clear that they made the right decision. No one was calling Thompson an idiot when Rodgers was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas two years ago.

Ryan Mallett, the Patriots’ third-round selection from the 2011 NFL Draft, has now sat behind Brady for two full seasons. He’s soaking everything up. At 6-foot-7 with a cannon for an arm, there are a lot of folks who follow the Patriots closely that believe he could already start for several NFL teams. With the success of so many other first- and second-year quarterbacks around the NFL, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t.

Mallett, like Matt Cassel before him, has been learning and watching Brady for an extended period of time. Without any real tread on the tires, he’s improving.

In two years, are we so sure the Patriots would be willing to spend their entire pool of free-agent money on a 37-year-old Tom Brady when they have Mallett, a guy who’d be entering his fifth year in the league, also hitting the free-agent market?

In addition, the Patriots don’t let players hold their feet to the fire. They, more than any other team in the NFL, have shown that sentimentality only goes so far. They traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders when he was an All-Pro. They traded Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks. Brady’s in a different class, sure, but at 37 — there’s no guarantee they would have given him some astronomical contract based on what he accomplished in the 2000’s.

Brady’s new deal works out best for everyone involved.

The Patriots now have the money they need to sign Brady’s security blanket: 32-year-old free agent wide receiver Wes Welker. They can also spend a bit more than I imagine they thought they had for talented young lineman Sebastian Vollmer and/or cornerback Aqib Talib. If they want to get really aggressive, they could make a run at a deep receiving threat like Mike Williams or a cover corner like Sean Smith. No matter how they spend it in March, the Brady deal creates found money that they didn’t have yesterday.

Brady makes out in this deal too, though. The assumption that he did this solely for the sake of the team, and that because he is married to a multi-million dollar supermodel he’d be willing to play for less money than he’s worth, is a typical sports writer wishing at the stars.

Brady’s still getting paid and he’s getting all of his money guaranteed — a rarity in this day and age. I guarantee (no pun intended) most NFL players would sign up for such a deal. Right now.

The prevailing theory that the Brady deal will impact Joe Flacco’s negotiations in Baltimore this offseason is a bit off, too. Though players making as much money as they possibly can is always beneficial for other players, Brady and Flacco are in very different boats.

Flacco is a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent coming off a Super Bowl MVP season.

Brady wasn’t ever going to be in that sort of position again. In Baltimore, Flacco holds all the cards and all the leverage. One way or another — whether it be a franchise tag or a long-term deal in the Drew Brees/Peyton Manning range — Flacco is getting big money from the Ravens this spring.

Comparing Brady and Flacco’s situations is like comparing apples and oranges. Or New England clam chowder to Baltimore crab cakes. They’re different cases.

I’m sure the Patriots are very happy to ensure Brady will be spending the rest of his career in New England. But I’m also sure the quarterback himself is quite happy knowing he’s got a guaranteed $60 million coming his way over the next few years.

Thankfully, we’ll never have to see Brady in a Jaguars or Cardinals jersey, a la Johnny Unitas in a Chargers top or a mustachioed Joe Namath suiting up for the Rams. He’ll retire with the New England Patriots, as he should.

Everyone’s happy and the story is a nice one. But let’s not act like Tom Brady and his agent did the Patriots any more favors than they did him.

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