Tom Brady is a role model for every quarterback in the NFL. He shows them how to train. He shows them how to eat.
And this season, he showed them how to use their leverage and take control of their careers.
This offseason is Unhappy Season for NFL quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford already has been traded to the Rams after asking out of Detroit. Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Russell Wilson are also voicing displeasure and trying to work their way out of town.
Brady showed over the past two years that franchise quarterbacks don’t have to be “yes men.” Brady wasn’t thrilled with the way things were going in New England, so he demanded to be a free agent after 2019 and he found the right spot in Tampa. Brady then used his influence to persuade the Buccaneers to sign Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, and persuaded the coaches to let Brady take the reins of the offense.
The result, of course, was a seventh Super Bowl for Brady, and the second in Buccaneers’ history.
Now several of Brady’s younger contemporaries are trying the same power play.
The most recent quarterback to reveal his discontent is Wilson, who has not missed a start in nine seasons and has reached the playoffs eight times with the Seahawks. But Wilson went on “The Dan Patrick Show” this past week and complained about getting hit too many times, and his people spread the word behind the scenes that Wilson is not happy with his situation. Wilson, like Brady, said he wants to be more involved in picking the players.
“I think it helps to be involved more. I think that dialogue should happen more often,” Wilson said.
The Seahawks, in turn, reportedly were not happy that Wilson took his gripes public. The Seahawks may not want to deal Wilson this year, since it would add $7 million to his cap number and leave them with a whopping $39 million of dead-cap space in 2021. Wilson, 32, also has a no-trade clause, which limits the Seahawks’ ability to get full value for him. But a trade this offseason isn’t out of the question, and a trade next offseason is definitely on the table.
Another one who wants out is Watson. He just last September signed a six-year, $175 million deal with Houston, but the Texans have been the NFL’s most dysfunctional organization over the past two years.
They gave former coach Bill O’Brien the title of general manager in 2019, let him trade multiple first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil, and let him trade star receiver DeAndre Hopkins last offseason, but fired O’Brien after just four games this season. O’Brien wears a lot of people out with his demeanor, but if owner Cal McNair was going to let him make several franchise-altering moves, McNair should have let O’Brien see it through.
There is also the issue of executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby, who has consolidated power as others have gotten fired and is not viewed favorably by some people inside and outside the organization.
Watson was phenomenal in 2020, leading the NFL with 4,823 passing yards and ranking second with a 112.4 passer rating. But the Texans wasted his performance with shoddy defense and coaching and finished 4-12.
The final straw came when McNair promised to give Watson input in hiring the team’s GM manager or head coach, but didn’t follow through.
New GM Nick Caserio doesn’t want to trade Watson and will try his best to persuade him to stay. But if Watson is adamant, Caserio may have no choice.
The Texans could get at least three first-round picks for Watson, and probably more. A trade would only increase Watson’s salary-cap number from $15.9 million to about $21.6 million for the Texans, making a trade palatable.
The Dolphins, who own picks Nos. 3, 18, 36, and 50, and are arguably a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender, are Watson’s best bet. The 49ers, Jets, and Panthers also look like intriguing fits.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles appear ready to pull the plug on the last five years of the franchise’s direction, which included a Super Bowl title in 2017. They already fired coach Doug Pederson, but Wentz, the No. 2 pick in 2016, still wants out, and the Eagles look ready to acquiesce.
There are a few complicating issues, however. Wentz had a horrific season in 2020, leading the NFL with 15 interceptions and 50 sacks despite playing only 12 games. He also is due $25.4 million next season, which is a lot of money for a struggling quarterback, especially since the salary cap is going to decrease from $198 million perhaps to $180 million.
The Eagles have had trouble finding a suitable trade offer, with only the Colts and Bears reportedly showing much interest. The Colts certainly make the most sense. They don’t have a quarterback following the retirement of Philip Rivers, and coach Frank Reich had a great connection with Wentz for two years in Philly.
Trading Wentz will free about $800,000 in cap space for the Eagles, but will saddle them with $33 million in dead-cap money. Keeping Wentz and trying to fix him is the easiest and cheapest solution. But if they are adamant about trading him, they may just have to take the best deal they can get, which is probably no more than a few mid-round picks.
The NFL has never seen so many young, healthy franchise quarterbacks try to get traded. They can thank Brady for showing them the way.
THINKING OF OTHERS
Brady had his teammates in mind
A few notes on Tom Brady:
▪ One thing Brady said during the week leading up to the Super Bowl was that he wanted to win a championship for all of his teammates that have never tasted success in the NFL.
I caught up with Tom Brady Sr. this past week for a feature in Sunday’s newspaper, and he passed along a similar sentiment.
“Six weeks ago, he said, ‘God, I’d love to win this thing,’ ” Brady Sr. said. “‘I’ve been there, I’ve done it six times, and a lot of these guys have never ever done it, and it would be so great to see their joy.’ And lo and behold, they all just jumped on the bandwagon and rode him to the Super Bowl together.”
Brady Sr. reiterated several times that the family has nothing but positive sentiments toward the Patriots and Bill Belichick. But there’s no question that winning this Super Bowl was special given all of the challenges Brady faced this season.
“They’re all sweet, but this one particularly I think, because new organization, new conference, new city, new coaching, new teammates, new everything,” Brady Sr. said. “Everybody coalesced into a team, and that’s pretty tough to do under these conditions.”
▪ Former kicker Jay Feely, who called his third Super Bowl for CBS last week, has been friends with Brady since they were teammates at Michigan from 1995-98. Feely had an interesting tweet the day after the Super Bowl.
“I was just thinking back on something Tom Brady told me before the season: ‘A motivated Tom Brady is bad for the rest of the league,’ ” Feely tweeted. “It always ends up with the same result: Tom Brady hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.”
▪ Feely also had a good perspective on the relationship between Brady and his new coaches, Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich.
“Leftwich and Arians deserve credit for not having an ego and allowing Tom to really take over that offense and start implementing what he thought was going to help make them successful,” Feely said. “Byron even said that in meetings. He finally grabbed Tom after a month, ‘Tell us what to do. Don’t not say something because you think you shouldn’t, or we’re the coaches. Be honest and tell us what you think.’ And that’s why they won the Super Bowl. I don’t think it happens if they just tell Tom to run our stuff, and I don’t think it happens if Tom doesn’t feel comfortable enough to say this is what’s going to work. There’s not a lot of coaches who would be willing to do that, or a lot of players who would have the acumen to be able to do that.”
▪ Brady has always been known as a guy who took less than market value in order to help spread the money around to other players on the Patriots. But Brady now holds another record: His $25 million salary-cap number in 2020 is the highest for any Super Bowl-winning QB in history.
Brady’s cap number was tied with Philip Rivers’s for the fifth-highest among quarterbacks this season. The last QB to win a Super Bowl with a top-five cap number was Eli Manning in 2011 (fifth at $14.1 million) and again in 2007 (fourth at $10.05 million).
▪ Brady managed to accomplish a new feat this season — 2020 marked the first time he won a Super Bowl while throwing at least 600 passes in the regular season (he was second this season with 610, behind Matt Ryan with 626). Brady’s other seasons with 600 attempts: 2002, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2019.
▪ Brady also drastically cut down on his throwaways, with just 20 during the regular season, or 3.3 percent of his pass attempts. Brady led the NFL in throwaways in 2019 (42, or 6.9 percent) and was fifth in 2018 (29, or 5.1 percent). When you have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski as as your targets, it’s a lot easier to keep a play alive.
Mariota would prove costly
One player that may be in the mix for the Patriots at quarterback is Raiders backup Marcus Mariota. He has a base compensation of $10.725 million and a cap number of $11.35 million, which is probably more than the Raiders want to pay their backup, especially given the decrease in the salary cap coming next season.
But Mariota is more expensive as a starter than you think. He signed a complicated, incentive-ladened contract last year that pays him a lot more when he gets on the field.
If Mariota doesn’t play a snap next season, he’ll make $10.725 million — $100,000 for an offseason workout bonus, and a $10.625 million base salary.
Mariota gets an extra $625,000 for every game in which he plays at least 60 percent of snaps. This incentive is capped at 12 games and $7.5 million.
Mariota gets an additional $156,250 for every game he wins in which he plays 60 percent of the snaps. This incentive is also capped at 12 games, and $1.875 million.
And Mariota earns $250,000 for each round of the playoffs in which he plays 50 percent of the snaps, plus an extra $1 million for winning the Super Bowl, for a maximum incentive of $2 million.
So if Mariota goes at least 12-4 as a starter and wins the Super Bowl, the Patriots would owe him $22.125 million. Considering Mariota wins a Super Bowl in this scenario, that’s money well spent.
But if Mariota goes, say, 8-8 and misses the playoffs, the Patriots still owe him $19.5 million. That’s a high price tag for mediocre quarterback play that doesn’t solve the team’s long-term answer.
Meyer, Jaguars righted a wrong
Urban Meyer hadn’t been coach of the Jaguars for even a month and already got himself in hot water. The Jaguars announced their full coaching staff this past week, and the announcement of Chris Doyle as the director of sport performance prompted significant and justified outrage.
Doyle, a 52-year-old Quincy native and Boston University grad, was the strength coach at Iowa for 20 years but left the program last summer (with a sweet $1.1 million buyout) in disgrace.
An external investigation found that Doyle and other coaches treated Black players more harshly than their white counterparts. Offensive lineman Jack Kallenberger said he retired from football two years ago because of bullying related to a learning disability. And in 2011, Iowa had 13 players hospitalized following an intense team workout with rhabdomyolysis, a stress-induced syndrome that can cause kidney damage and even failure.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates on behalf of minority coaches, called out Meyer for the hire.
“Doyle’s departure from the University of Iowa reflected a tenure riddled with poor judgment and mistreatment of Black players,” Alliance executive director Rod Graves said in a statement. “His conduct should be as disqualifying for the NFL as it was for University of Iowa.”
The Jaguars wisely rectified the situation, as Doyle resigned from his position late Friday night. This episode was a terrible look for Meyer, who left Ohio State in 2018 in disgrace after it came to light that he repeatedly looked the other way at accusations of domestic violence against receivers coach Zach Smith.
“We are responsible for all aspects of our program and, in retrospect, should have given greater consideration to how his appointment may have affected all involved,” Meyer said in a statement.
Rest in peace, Marty Schottenheimer, who died this past week of Alzheimer’s at 77. A Boston Patriots linebacker in 1969-70, Schottenheimer later became a head coach for four teams over 21 seasons, compiling a 200-126-1 (.613) record with the Browns, Chiefs, Washington, and Chargers. Schottenheimer only reached one conference championship game and never made it to a Super Bowl, but he has the eighth-most wins in NFL history. He went to the playoffs in 13 of his 21 seasons, and it took him until his 15th year in coaching to have a losing record (7-9 with the 1998 Chiefs), with just two losing seasons in 21 years. His final game was a 24-21 home playoff loss to the Patriots in January 2007, which spoiled the Chargers’ 14-2 season … There is a lot of talk about J.J. Watt returning home to the Packers or joining his brothers with the Steelers, but I’ve got two AFC South rivals circled. The Titans and Colts are Super Bowl contenders and have a major need for pass rush help. The Titans finished 30th with just 19 sacks this season, while both of the Colts’ defensive ends (Justin Houston and Denico Autry) are free agents … Super Bowl ratings were down about 9 percent from last year, but that’s actually a nice win for the NFL. Per Sports Media Watch, that pales in comparison to decreases in other sports: The college football championship was down 27 percent, the World Series was down 30 percent, the NBA Finals 49 percent, the final round of the Masters 58 percent, and the Stanley Cup Final 61 percent. Blame the pandemic … I don’t have a vote, but I would have picked Zach Thomas and Richard Seymour for this year’s Hall of Fame class over John Lynch and Calvin Johnson … This year marks the first time that the Buccaneers hold the last pick in the first round of the draft. In 2003, the Bucs would have had the 32nd pick, but they traded it to the Raiders in the Jon Gruden deal.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.