Let’s establish one thing right away: Tom Brady is incomparable.
No one has won as much as him. No one has done it this well, for this long. And no one has been in the position he’ll likely find himself next month, as a soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback entering free agency with a belief he’s still got more to prove and could potentially be courted by a bevy of suitors.
As such, no one can say for sure at this point what the market will bare for Brady — including the Patriots, who over recent weeks have been said in one report to be willing to offer their iconic quarterback $30 million for the 2020 season, and in another story said to be irritated by such a suggestion.
“That number is now an albatross to the proceedings,” NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran wrote in the latter report, which was published Feb. 7.
That number keeps coming up amid the rampant speculation, though. Most recently it surfaced in a report from Minnesota-based reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr., who said Friday that the Raiders are prepared to offer Brady a two-year deal worth a total of $60 million.
Is that real? We won’t officially known until at least March 18, when Brady will become a full-fledged free agent if he doesn’t re-sign with New England before then.
But is it realistic?
Yes — although that would appear to depend on how teams evaluate or explain the dip in Brady’s production over the past season and a half. How long they’re willing to commit to a player entering his 21st pro season. And, maybe most importantly, how much they’re willing to pay for the off-field value of having the Greatest Of All-Time and his star power serving as the on-field executor of their franchise for a couple of falls.
THE $30 MILLION MARKET
According to one contract-based valuation, Brady is absolutely worth that kind of cash. Spotrac.com, a tremendous resource for information on player contracts (and their ramifications) in football and beyond, projects Brady’s market value to be nearly $33.9 million per year, over two years.
The site reached that conclusion by comparing Brady’s past two seasons to the stats posted by four other quarterbacks in the two seasons before they signed their own contract extensions. Spotrac says the deals agreed to by those QBs averaged 3.5 years at a rate of $34 million per season.
It’s also worth noting that the average age of the players at the time they signed was 31.5, so a full decade younger than Brady will be. And those four — Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger — represented four of only six quarterbacks (in a league of 32 teams) that Spotrac says made $30 million in average annual value this past season. The others were Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan.
HOW MUCH DO TEAMS COMMIT TO QBs?
Rodgers’ Packers were the only NFL team to commit more than $30 million in salary cap space to the quarterback position last season. Salary cap money can be maneuvered, of course, but that’s easier to do when it’s spread across more seasons, or when there’s another extension to follow, neither of which figures to be true with Brady.
And while the total cap is expected to grow by somewhere around $12 million for next season, last season suggested that pledging big bucks to the quarterback isn’t a prerequisite to winning. On average, playoff teams committed $18.7 million in cap money to their QBs. By hitting on a young stud, Kansas City ($9.2 million), Houston ($6.8 million), Buffalo ($6.6 million), and Baltimore ($4.2 million) all reached the postseason with the cap strain roughly at or below about half the league-wide average.
WHAT’S HIS PRODUCTION WORTH?
So, then, from a strictly football perspective, a team would logically need to still see Brady as a top-eight quarterback to justify paying him $30 million for next season. In 2019, he ranked 13th in touchdown passes, 19th among qualifiers in passer rating, and 27th in yards per attempt.
Those who were right around Brady’s 24 touchdown passes and 3-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions were fellow free agent Ryan Tannehill (22:6), Raider Derek Carr (21:8), Jaguar Gardner Minshew (21:6), and Colt Jacoby Brissett (18:6). That group includes a castoff, a rookie, one of Brady’s former backups, and Carr — who Brady would replace if he takes an offer from Las Vegas.
All together, those four made a total of $41 million last season, with Carr accounting for $20 million of that himself.
Those in Brady’s neighborhood according to yards per attempt was an even more humbling list. He averaged 6.6, his worst since 2002 and almost a full yard off his career average. Here are the other qualifiers who averaged between 6.5 and 6.9 yards per throw: Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold, Case Keenum, Kyle Allen, Carson Wentz, Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, Brissett, and Andy Dalton. Four of them were backups at some point this season. Brissett would’ve been if Andrew Luck hadn’t retired at the end of the preseason. Among the rest, Murray was a rookie, Darnold was in his second season, and Josh Allen joined Wentz as the only members of the group who quarterbacked winning teams.
Even with a couple of reaping the bonus benefits of being high first-round picks, those players made an average of $10.75 million for that production this past season.
Some of those same QBs were also Brady’s company by the measure of passer rating. He finished at 88, his lowest since 2013, which had been the only season since 2007 in which his rating was worse than 96. The five names just ahead of Brady were Ryan, Keenum, Minshew, Philip Rivers, and Brissett. The five names just behind him were Jones, Murray, Goff, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Josh Allen.
The average pay for the 10 quarterbacks whose passer rating was around Brady’s in 2019 was $15.4 million, even with Ryan fetching $44.75 million. Again, Brady and Allen (this time joined by Goff) were the only teams to post a winning record with quarterback production at that level.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The statistics, thus, say a team can get what the Patriots got out of Brady in 2019 for far less than $30 million. But that’s where teams pursuing Brady must put a monetary value on the quality of what the Pats put around him last season — and how much of a hindrance that was on his final production.
Pro Football Focus recently blasted New England’s receivers, blaming them for giving Brady nowhere to go with his throws and for some of the pressure that required him to hang on to the ball longer than he has in years. The Patriots also lacked a significant threat at tight end this season, following the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, and the offensive line wasn’t consistent enough to make the running game worrisome for Pats’ opponents.
If a team looks at its own offense, sees better support for the quarterback, and determines that in their system Brady will be closer to elite, it could justify a short-term spending spree. The justification becomes even easier when it’s a club trying to create buzz, like the Raiders or Chargers — though there are at least questions about whether Brady would be a major upgrade for either strictly as a quarterback.
Then again, a team could also look at Brady’s 60.8 percent completion percentage, see the NFL’s Next-Gen Stats showing an expected completion rate on those throws at 64 percent, and take note that the 3.1 percent difference puts him the realm of three QBs who lost their jobs last year (Eli Manning, Dalton, and Mariota). Others could take note of what Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes did in dominating the league this season, or what younger, quicker quarterbacks have been able to do lately, and see greater value in the diversity a mobile thrower can bring to an offense.
Some might even determine that adding Brady would require them to retrofit their offense to a guy who made his mark in another era of offensive strategy. Or might force to find guys who’ll fit him, given the evidence that suggests not everyone will work. Teams will need to determine the cost for those aspects, as well.
So, then, does $30 million make sense for Brady? Ultimately, it’s not as simple as putting a price tag on Brady. He may have a number in mind, and he may get it — but it’ll only come after a much broader assessment and how each individual team parses out its priorities.
And given how wide range of opinions across the NFL tend to be, particularly with these incomparable circumstances surrounding an incomparable player, the only certainty is that by March 18 no possible outcome should arrive as a true surprise.