From the outset, let’s make this crystal clear: Based on what we believe to be true, the chances of Tom Brady holding out on the Patriots are microscopic, assuming they exist at all. Brady is too loyal to the Kraft family, too image-conscious overall, too good a teammate to do otherwise.
But from a pure business standpoint, as owners and players brace for a labor war, he probably shouldn’t show up. And if you were his agent, you would be telling him that, too.
I know I would.
Among players operating with contracts that expire at the end of the coming football season, Brady is a special case. His contract calls for him to be paid a base salary of just $3.5 million this season, far lower than the approximate $14-$15 million due his primary peer, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who is similarly unsigned beyond 2011. Even if you factor in the $3-million bonus Brady was paid in March, he will earn $6.5 million in this NFL business year. With a new deal, it's fair to assume he would stand to gain somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-$45 million guaranteed.See the problem here? By playing, Brady guarantees himself only another $3.5 million. By sitting out, he might force the Patriots’ hand on a deal that would assure him $40-$45 million. In a league where season- and career-ending injuries frequently occur in an instant – ask Wes Welker about this or, for that matter, Brady himself – no one could possibly blame No. 12 if he opted to look out for No. 1.
As always, there is a great deal to consider here. Logan Mankins, in some ways, faces a similar dilemma. As a restricted free agent, Mankins could play this year at a salary between $1.5 million and $3.2 million, or he could hold out for something closer to what the New Orleans Saints gave Jahri Evans. Like Mankins, Evans was a restricted free agent. Unlike Mankins, he got a multi-year deal that will pay him an estimated $20-$25 million in the first three years. The Saints did for Evans what the Patriots heretofore have been unwilling to do for Mankins, which is why he has been absent from workouts.
So we ask you: why shouldn’t Brady do the same?
By now, we all understand that the Patriots frequently take a hard-line approach on negotiations. Often, the practice has worked for them. The problem now is that they aren’t quite what they used to be and that the idea of taking less in New England is not as appealing as it once was. In most things, you get back what you give, and the Patriots’ hardball approach produced, in turn, a hardball approach from Mankins.
Of course, Mankins is a guard. In theory, thanks to the arrival of Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots could try to replace Mankins by simply moving Nick Kaczur to guard and playing Vollmer, along with Matt Light, at the two tackle positions. Mankins could hold out until Week 10 – at which point he would sacrifice the necessary service time to qualify for unrestricted free agency – and then may have no choice but to come crawling back.
Brady is another matter entirely. Without him, entering a season in which the Patriots already face more questions than they have since perhaps 2001, his absence would undermine the team entirely. Even if backup Brian Hoyer turns out to be Matt Cassel – and that is a big if – the Patriots don’t have the same proven talent they did two years ago. The first half of the season, in particular, would be a mess. Bill Belichick would be trying to bring along a new quarterback while simultaneously integrating a new draft class, all while hoping to continue the development of young players like Vollmer, Darius Butler, Patrick Chung and others.
Brady has all the leverage here, folks. He is not yet two years removed from knee surgery and he’s playing for short money. He did the Patriots a favor in negotiations last time and he’s not likely to do them another. Anyone who brings the earning power of Giselle Bundchen into this equation is either clueless or a shameless Patriots suck-up, if for no other reason than the fact that Brady is worth what he’s worth, independent of his famous spouse.
If his wife were, say, a volunteer at the local soup kitchen, would that be a reason to give him more?
The Patriots are due to open training camp in eight days. For all we know, the Patriots and Brady’s representatives are already hard at work on a new deal for the quarterback. That is the conclusion everybody wants. But as the NFL creeps toward a labor war – and remember, the owners are the ones who opted out of the current bargaining agreement – there is more and more reason for players to dig in their heels. No first-round picks from this year’s draft have been signed yet. Accomplished men like Brady and Manning are being put on hold by owners who clearly are acting in concert. Across the NFL, owners are expecting many players to show up and play, at varying salaries, with no job or earning security beyond 2010.
If I’m Tom Brady in that scenario, I have to seriously wonder whether playing this year is worth it.
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