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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Does Tom Brady Have a Message to Deliver to the Patriots?

My son has recently taken an interest in arcade claw machines, those glass boxes of empty dreams that suck the souls – and dollar bills – from kids hoping to grab some cheap piece of crap they don’t need or, more likely, probably already have. Despite my warnings, the process always ends the same. I try to explain to him how those things are a complete waste of money, and wouldn’t he rather pump quarters into that skee-ball thing over there anyway? We could probably get enough tickets to trade for a small roll of Smarties, maybe even a foreboding, plastic spider ring.

The next thing I know, I’m watching him maneuver a crane that looks like something out of a recalled Erector Set, only to fail to latch onto some nondescript, plastic egg which probably only contained a 2-for-1 coupon at one of the 16 new frozen yogurt stands in the mall anyway. Hit repeat until his mother asks why I’m allowing him to spend so much money on a fruitless endeavor, or I’ve taken the liberty of burrowing myself into the corner where they keep the '80s games, so I can swear at Pole Position.

So, maybe it’s no more accurate than trying to use the claw to clutch a gold nugget out of a load of immaterial nonsense, but in the grand scheme of things, it would make sense if it were true. Was Tom Brady saying more than he let on Thursday, when the New England Patriots held the first practice of training camp?

“You just appreciate the moments that you have, and every year is something different,” Brady said in front of a gaggle of reporters so deep that they looked like they were pining for the final slice of bread after Armageddon. “This could be your last training camp — you never know. So you have to make it count. You can’t take anything for granted in the NFL.”

On the surface, it’s nothing more your typical athlete canned blabber, something Brady has perfected over his 15 years in the NFL. You’re apt to get something more enlightening out of a Wal-Mart greeter than you would Brady. At least since he taunted Plaxico Burress’ assessment that the Patriots would only score 17 points in Super Bowl XLII, and that just sort of didn’t go all that well.

Still, “This could be your last training camp — you never know.” Was that Brady doing his rendition of “A Patriot looks at 40,” or was there a message in his words? And was that message indeed one directed at the Patriots as it pertains to the current structure of the contract that the quarterback signed just last year?

Let’s back up a bit, shall we? It was last February when it was announced that Brady had signed a new contract extension that went universally-praised in New England. The sell was that Brady was taking less money to make his team more competitive, a factor the Patriots considered greatly when they low-balled Wes Welker, watched the wide receiver jump to Denver, then responded to reports of Brady’s fury by putting in a Trader Joe’s at Patriot Empire headquarters. Publicly, Brady said he was cool, would certainly miss Wes, then entered the season with a demeanor reminiscent of when Clark Griswold told his family from which part of their bodies they’d be singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” when he realized he had no better options than throwing to the likes of Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

This past offseason, the Patriots tried to make up for that by putting in a hard press to try and acquire Houston Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson. Nah, just kidding. They didn’t give him anything.

But that’s not the point; it's not like Brady can quibble with the offseason moves the Patriots made this past spring. Based on the parameters of the contract he signed with the team last year, Brady will be paid out the final installment of his $30 million signing bonus on Feb. 15, 2015. He earned the first $10 million of that bonus during last season, another $5 million last Feb. 15, and will earn $10 million more during the upcoming season. His “salary” for last season was a mere $1 million. This season, it will be $2 million. In 2015, he’ll make $7 million, then $8 million and $9 million the final two years of the deal. In all, it was a five-year deal with a maximum value of $57 million, $33 million guaranteed.

By February, he’ll have entirely earned the guaranteed portion.

So, you’re telling me that Brady is going to go from making an average of $16.5 million in real money from 2013-14 (before re-working the contract, he was due to make $19.5 million both years combined), then be fine with a pay cut amounting to less than half that annual amount starting in 2015? Perhaps. Then again, Red Sox starter John Lackey has already started floating retirement instead of playing for $500,000 next season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Brady could be pursuing a similar avenue in order to get the Patriots to re-work his deal. What are they going to do? Dangle Jimmy Garoppolo in his face?

Maybe Brady is just starting that process now. He will make less of a "salary" this season than 36 other quarterbacks (yes, including Chase Daniel, duh), but don’t cry for starving Brazil-themed artists around the world just yet. The real money he’s taking home is in the upper realm of the best-paid quarterbacks in the league. Next season, Jay [expletive] Cutler will make more than twice as much. I don’t care if you have an ego the size of Cutler’s list of achievements, that has to hit you in the groin.

By the way, a few weeks ago on vacation in Pennsylvania, my son came up Milhouse with the claw, getting its metallic mitts on a stuffed bear, decked out in Baltimore Ravens gear, of all things. I could tell from the discernible, evil glare in ol' Teddy Ruxpin’s eye that trouble was afoot, and its presence in our home may already be responsible for a number of Chucky-esque incidents. But we tuck it in at night and sing it lullabies instead of disciplining him, just so he feels like he’s back at home with his purple and black family.

It also cost me another $10 after his brother wanted to try for one. I hate the claw.

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