Tom Brady, as adept at diplomacy as he is at throwing a football, has never proclaimed publicly that the Patriots absolutely must retain a certain player, at least as far as I can recall.
Surely Brady shares his blunt personnel opinions with Bill Belichick far away from us media types -- in fact, if the Patriots aren’t soliciting them from the brilliant, decorated quarterback, they’re not as thorough as we believe they are.
But publicly? No, I can’t recall him offering much more than casual praise and boilerplate plaudits. The closest he may have come was before the 2006 season when Deion Branch was locked in the contract battle that eventually led to a trade to Seattle and an unforgivable reliance on the likes of Reche Caldwell the following season.
Even then, I don’t believe Brady ever came close to saying “We have to have Deion,’’ at least when the cameras and microphones were on. It’s not his style.
I bring this up now because I was curious whether that diplomatic policy might change this offseason.
There are few quarterback/receiver tandems in NFL history that have produced to the degree that Tom Brady and Wes Welker have during the latter’s six seasons in Foxborough. Welker has 672 regular-season receptions since arriving in Foxborough (123 coming in 2009, when Matt Cassel filled in during the year the unthinkable happened.)
He had what felt something like a down year for him last season -- and he still pulled in 118 catches for 1,354 yards, one of the greatest statistical seasons a Patriots receiver has ever had. He’s almost 32, and it feels like he drops more passes than he used to in big moments, and you know what? He remains absolutely essential to what the Patriots do.
No one knows that more than Brady. The quarterback trusts him implicitly, and if ever there were a player on whose behalf Brady would make a Don’t Let Him Get Away speech, wouldn’t it be Welker or no one, ever?
I bring this up not because Brady has made such a speech. He hasn’t. Instead, he did something more. He put his money where his mouth wasn’t.
The bombshell news from SI’s Peter King (so this is why we still read him) that Brady had agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract extension, taking him through 2017 and that 40th birthday he’s always said he wanted to play beyond, saves the Patriots $15 million toward the cap over the next two years.
But Brady’s extension -- the second time in his career he’s reworked a deal for salary cap relief, the first coming in 2005 -- does so much more than that.
It allows the Patriots, who are reportedly $23 million under the cap this year, more flexibility in retaining their key free agents, from Welker to Aqib Talib to Sebastian Vollmer to Danny Woodhead, to the point that if someone departs, chances are it will be because they didn’t value the player as much as we thought rather than because of a price they couldn’t meet.
It also allows the Patriots the possibility of adding both quality and quantity when free agency begins March 12, a year in which the flat cap (roughly $121 million) will prevent the majority of teams from making significant moves without paring their roster.
There will be bargains to be found, and here’s hoping they find a few unheralded gems as they did during the 2000-01 offseason, when the likes of Mike Vrabel, David Patten, Roman Phifer (who, as Chris Gasper pointed out on Boston Sports Live on Monday, they never have replaced) and Antowain Smith came aboard for the most improbable Super Bowl run in NFL history.
But they can also afford to go to the ritzy shopping district, as they did before the ‘03 season when they added game-changer Rodney Harrison at safety and Rosevelt Colvin at linebacker.
Patriots fans can peruse the free agent lists now and know that daydreams may become reality.
Perhaps an Ed Reed acquisition has become more realistic. Maybe Mike Wallace will come aboard as the deep threat they have lacked since Randy Moss’s exit. Would Paul Kruger be a fit? Anything is possible.
While a cynic might note that Brady literally can afford to make such financial sacrifices, what with Gisele being as successful in her field as he is in his, it’s a fairly extraordinary gesture given the going-rate for franchise quarterbacks nowadays. It will look even better if the Ravens lose Reed or Kruger to the Patriots because they must meet the demands of postseason star Joe Flacco.
Brady is a willing bargain, because being a bargain gives him a better chance at something that matters far more to him than money -- winning that fourth championship, and maybe one or two more beyond.
Brady’s decision benefits his team, it benefits him in his quest to be the greatest who ever played, and it may just benefit his trusted buddy Wes, whom Brady undoubtedly believes is crucial to that championship quest.
Maybe he hasn’t actually said as much. But his actions speak louder than any verbal statement he could possibly have made.