Happy Birthday, Tom. Hopefully it's not the last one you celebrate as a Patriot.
Every year Tom Brady's birthday falls during training camp. TB12 turned 33 today. Hard to believe. It seems like just yesterday a fresh-faced, wide-eyed, and tonsorially irrelevant Brady was turning to Drew Bledsoe in disbelief to celebrate winning a Super Bowl.
You look up and, bang, Brady has Justin Bieber bangs and is a grizzled veteran of both the NFL and life. He has a wife, two kids, a scar on his left knee and a bi-coastal lifestyle. This is going to be his 11th NFL season. He won his first Super Bowl before Facebook, Twitter, and "American Idol."
Brady is a year older, but he's not old. His idol, Joe Montana, was 33 when he won his last Super Bowl. Bart Starr won one at 34. John Elway won a pair of Super Bowls at 37 and 38. Brett Favre nearly made it to a Super Bowl at 40.
So, what do you get the urbane man who has everything for his birthday? How about the one thing he really wants, can't give himself, and doesn't have -- a new contract?
That would be a nice gift from Patriots owner Robert Kraft to Brady --- and Patriots fans. It's not likely to be delivered today or any time soon though, despite Kraft's repeated insistence, sans tangible details, that Brady will remain a Patriot. Brady and the Patriots do not have the particulars of a deal in place.
If he didn't know it before, Brady is realizing that not even he is immune to the looming labor unrest in the NFL. Both Brady and his Colts compatriot, Peyton Manning, have become pawns in the collective bargaining agreement posturing between the players and the owners. This next CBA is hugely important for the owners, who opted out in 2008. It trumps anything else going on in the league, including the future of their own franchises and bitter rivalries.
So much so that the Patriots and their arch-enemies, the Indianapolis Colts, are actually in cahoots on the franchise quarterback issue.
The last thing the owners want is for Brady and Manning to get massive contracts under the old system, undercutting their argument that it is broken beyond repair and needs to be scrapped. Thus, instead of locking up their sainted signal-callers, the teams are assuring fans and media those players aren't going anywhere and hinting at the franchise tag.
Quick, which team owner said this recently about which future Hall of Fame QB: "The bottom line is we'll get something done and when it happens just depends."
If you guessed Kraft, you guessed wrong. Using uncannily similar language to the grand pooh-bah of Patriot Place, that was what Indy owner Jim Irsay said yesterday. Irsay, while reaffirming his pre-Super Bowl pledge to make Manning the game's highest-paid player, also said doing a deal wouldn't be easy because the next CBA is going to go back and recapture something from the uncapped year.
That's news to the NFLPA.
This is a case of the owners reminding the players who is boss and who their bosses are. They're using Brady and Manning as examples to the rank and file. It's been well-documented that Brady is an assistant player representative for the NFLPA. The players association believes that owners will respect and listen to someone like Brady. That he can cross the aisle between players and owners. That billionaire owners see Brady as somewhat of an equal, someone who is more than the hired help.
By treating iconic players like Brady and Manning like, well, just players the owners are sending a message. They're saying no one, not even the game's two more recognizable stars, can move them off their hardline CBA position. It's pure intimidation. It's also a huge risk.
The risk in this strategy is that you alienate a Brady or a Manning to the point where they resent their treatment, resent the franchise tag and do everything in their power to pack up their ball and go play somewhere else post-CBA. For Kraft, that's the ultimate case of winning the battle and losing the war.
Brady understands that he's being made an example of to some degree. He understands what the stakes are.
We all love the Brady-Manning comparison, but the reality as pointed out by colleague Albert Breer is that there is no comparison when it comes to paychecks. Manning entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 and was instantly handed a six-year, $47.6 million deal. Brady was a sixth-round pick who entered on a three-year rookie deal.
Even after he won a Super Bowl, the deal he signed in August 2002 -- last time Brady entered camp in the final year of his contract -- was a four-year extension that brought his total payment package over five seasons to about $30 million. That's still $17.6 million less than Manning's rookie deal.
Brady is always chasing money versus Manning. This is his last chance to be in Manning's league from a salary standpoint. That league costs $17-$20 million a year. That type of salary for Brady is more about respect than cash flow. To be around Brady is to understand he's more about principle than principal.
Brady and Kraft were seen amiably chatting as they left the practice field yesterday. Yesterday, at an event to trumpet the installation of a solar power system at Patriot Place and the team's Hall of Fame, Kraft was asked if he and Brady were discussing plans for Brady's B-day.
"It's unbelievable when you think he came here when I guess he was 22," said Kraft. "Now, he's going to be 33. ...We look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with him right here in Foxborough."
Hopefully, that's the case. Or the Patriots probably won't be celebrating much of anything in Foxborough.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.