The last time Patriots quarterback Tom Brady restructured his contract with the team, it came with the assumption that he did so to free up cash in order for New England to re-sign wide receiver Wes Welker.
And so, here we are again. According to multiple reports, the 37-year-old playoff-bound quarterback has re-worked his contract with the Patriots one more time, freeing up $24 million in cash presumably to be used as potential signing bonuses in retaining free agents including cornerback Darrelle Revis, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, safety Devin McCourty, and running back Shane Vereen. But we’ve been here before.
Brady’s last restructure, prior to the 2013 season, gave him guaranteed salaries from 2015-17, albeit at bargain-basement prices of $7 million next season, $8 million in 2016, and $9 million for 2017. Those numbers have now gone up $1 million each season as a tradeoff for Brady taking away the guarantees attached to them and convert them to injury-only.
Those final three years became guaranteed last Sunday when Brady was on the Patriots’ roster, requiring the team to have that $24 million in escrow by the end of March due to NFL salary requirements. Because Brady surrendered the guarantee, it now gives the team cash flexibility to help sweeten the pot for the likes of Revis, but does not have salary cap implications. As the Herald’s Jeff Howe points out, the Patriots could say, “the hell with it” in re-negotiating with the cornerback, and simply pick up the team option for 2015, which includes a $12 million roster bonus, $9 million of which would be due to Revis by mid-March. That would prevent him from following Rex Ryan, wherever the former Jets coach may land, or falling into Woody Johnson’s tampering plea for his former All-Pro star.
But why would Brady do it all over again, especially after it backfired last time in regard to Welker? His contract figured to be an issue come spring, when many thought the quarterback might raise issue with the fact that he was making less than someone like Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback who has 18 fewer postseason wins to his credit. And please, stop with the nonsense that Brady did this because Gisele makes enough money to support that family anyway. It’s also important to note that he didn’t give the team any cash back. He only allowed the Patriots to spend that $24 million more freely, and also made $3 million in the process.
But really, this is all you have to know: This is a precursor to a new deal for the 15-year veteran.
By having the guarantees removed, Brady made it whole lot easier for the Krafts to outright release the quarterback without any liability. That’s not likely to happen any day soon, but such a move would allow the three-time Super Bowl winner to command whatever dollar amount he wanted on the open market.
Look, the whole Brady finishing his career in his hometown with the San Francisco 49ers angle has been something of an easy parallel to make with his boyhood idol Joe Montana, who ended his own Hall of Fame career in Kansas City. But with a new coaching regime (and what if it’s pal Josh McDaniels?) on the way in the wake of Jim Harbaugh’s departure to the University of Michigan and the blatant realization that Colin Kaepernick just isn’t any good, maybe it’s a situation to keep in the back of the drawer of distant possibilities. If that’s an ideal that Brady has, he could hold out and force the Krafts to release him, at which point he could make Peyton money with 49ers owner Jed York.
But back to the more likely scenario. Now that the money is not guaranteed, the team could cut Brady and re-sign him to a five-year deal with a salary bonus that pays him what many of his equals (and lessers) are making throughout the NFL. As the Globe’s Ben Volin notes in his breakdown, Brady is set to have a $15 million salary cap number in 2016. “They could designate Brady a post-June 1 cut, which would give the Patriots salary cap charges of $6 million in both 2016 and 2017,” Volin writes. “The Patriots could then re-sign Brady to a five-year deal through 2020, which would put more money in his pocket in the short term in a signing bonus, but would lower his cap number in 2016 by spreading the bonus out over five years. He did a similar thing in 2013, converting salary into signing bonus to help ease the cap charges.”
“Being in the business, I know there’s more than meets the eye with these things,” Joel Corry, a salary cap expert for CBS Sports and a former longtime NFL and NBA agent said. “You extend [the contract] out so you’ve got five years, give him a signing bonus where he makes more than the $8 million, and pay Brady closer to what he actually deserves.”
Brady recently told Sports Illustrated that he wants to play until he’s 48, which seems a stretch, but who would be surprised if he’s still slinging the ball in another 11 years? More realistically, a new, five-year deal prior to the 2016 season would take him up to the age of 43, at which point Jimmy Garoppolo might be on his third stop in the NFL.
Brady did do this to help the Patriots maintain a winner, but let’s not be naive and think there’s not a lot more than an extra $3 million for him in the long run either.