Breaking down the quarterback deals


For a long time, we’ve heard how the contract situations of Patriots QB Tom Brady and Colts QB Peyton are “complicated” by the NFL’s labor battle.

Why? And How?

Well, that’s what I set out to figure out in working on this piece for today’s Boston Globe, learning, among plenty of other things, that the two situations are hardly identical, but both are sort-of microcosms for the “macro” issues between the NFL and its union.

Hopefully, you’ll dive into the larger story, but here are some bullet-points on what I got from reporting this thing …

* The franchise tag actually protects Manning, but not Brady. Manning’s franchise number, based on 120 percent of his 2009 take, will be $23.07 million in 2011. Were he tagged again in 2012, it would rise to $27.64 million, meaning he’s guaranteed nearly $51 million in those two years. That’s motivation for the Colts to work something out, and a key leverage points for Manning.

Brady, on the other hand, is adversely affected by the fact that, for now, the franchise number for quarterbacks is actually due to fall in 2010. As of right now (and Sam Bradford’s contract could boost the number, while a Brett Favre retirement would cause it to fall), that figure is just $13.8 million, down from $14.65 million in 2008 and $16.41 in 2009. Both teams plan to tag their quarterbacks in the event that nothing gets done before February.

* The signing bonus and amount of pre-lockout money is at issue here. If you look at deals for D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Elvis Dumervil and Patrick Willis, much of the money is due in 2011 or later. That means those numbers could be subject to change in a new system, far moreso than a signing bonus now would.

I certainly got the idea that if Brady and Manning would do that sort of deal, their deals would be done now. They won’t, and it’s easy to understand why … They have the leverage and financial wherewithal not to have to, where Ferguson, Dumervil and Willis each took the chance to secure their futures with some risk coming off rookie deals. One more thing to be clear about here — The signing bonus issue isn’t necessarily about cash flow; You can easily work out a deferred payment schedule. It’s about committing dollars that you cannot get back.

* The return of the salary cap is certainly a sticking point, and I get the feeling that the owners believe, quietly, that they’re going to win out in the end. That means that what it is a $20 million a year deal today might look like $25 million a year on tomorrow’s salary cap.

As I said in the story, for the player, $20 million is $20 million. But for the teams that money looks very different against an $80 million cap than it does against a $100 million cap. And if the owners expect to win out in the CBA battle, then spending huge money in the current climate is something that could cost them later on. Particularly when that money is impossible to get back, like signing-bonus money would be.

Generally, a team might commit 10-13 percent of its salary cap (though Manning has at times played by different rules) to its franchise quarterback. It’s much harder now to come up with hard figure for what that’ll be in the future.


… And then, there’s the owners’ and players’ positions in all this.

While you hear wildly varying things about how much this affects these talks (some say not at all, others say a lot), the fact remains that the Robert Kraft is among the league’s leading owners and Tom Brady is one of the union’s 90 player reps and one of just five quarterbacks in the group (Kyle Orton, Chad Pennington, Charlie Batch and Matt Hasselbeck are the others … though Drew Brees holds a higher position in the PA).

No matter how you look at it, big deals for these quarterbacks undermines the argument that the current system is broken, and a franchise quarterback making contractual compromises wouldn’t reflect well on the union.

So that’s where we stand. Brady and the Patriots have had talks over the course of the last year. But things aren’t close, and once the games get started, it’s going to become that much harder to get a deal done.

Will Brady be franchised in February 2011? Will he go into the lockout without a contract?

For now, it’s a real distinct possibility.

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