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FOXBOROUGH — The renegotiated contract signed by Tom Brady is a strange one, from his perspective.
Brady didn’t get any extra years tacked onto his contract, which still runs through 2019. And he didn’t get much out of the new deal — just a chance to earn an extra $5 million this year if he finishes as a top-five NFL quarterback in various statistical categories.
That’s a lot of money for you and me, but for Brady, who has made nearly $200 million in career football earnings and is married to a fabulously wealthy supermodel, it’s not exactly life-changing money. Even with the raise, Brady still is paid like Blake Bortles and Sam Bradford, and not the elite QBs. And they didn’t give him a raise or an incentive package for 2019.
But the new contract also contains a subtle message: It sure seems like Brady has committed to playing through the 2019 season.
That counts as major news this offseason, because Brady has been all over the map.
He said multiple times that he needs to spend more time with his family, and that he has been missing out on his children’s lives. With Oprah Winfrey, Brady admitted he thinks about retirement “more than I used to. I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming, sooner rather than later.” Brady skipped almost the entire offseason workout program, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter caused a panic across New England in April when he reported that Brady hadn’t even committed to playing in 2018.
Then just days after the Winfrey interview aired in June, Brady was back on the “I’m playing until 45” train, as he has told everyone for several years (and is one reason why the Patriots traded away Jimmy Garoppolo). On an ESPN Instagram post speculating about the end of Brady’s career, he responded, “Cuarenta y cinco,” or 45 in Spanish.
So where does Brady actually stand? The new contract certainly implies that he is committed for two more years.
Brady didn’t just get $5 million in incentives tacked on for this season. Per details of the contract obtained by the Globe, the Patriots also agreed to give him a salary advance — instead of making $14 million in base salary this season (plus $1 million in per-game roster bonuses), they gave him a $10 million signing bonus and lowered his base salary to $4 million.
Part of it is for salary-cap purposes — the new incentives increased his cap number by $5 million, but the signing bonus decreases it by the same amount, so it’s a wash. Brady can now make up to $20 million in cash, but his salary-cap number remains at $22 million.
But the Patriots did something with Brady that they love to boast about never doing — pushing money into the future. That $10 million signing bonus puts an extra $5 million on Brady’s salary-cap number for 2019. He is still slated to make $15 million in cash, but now his cap number increases from $22 million to $27 million.
It increases Brady’s dead-cap money, too (money that will still count against the Patriots’ salary cap if Brady is released, traded, or retires). It was just $7 million, or the final installment of the $28 million signing bonus he received in 2016. Now with the renegotiation, Brady’s dead-cap money increases to $12 million.
The Patriots, like all teams, carry some dead-cap space every year. Darrelle Revis cost them $5 million the year after he left. Jerod Mayo cost them $4.4 million, and Logan Mankins $4 million. Aaron Hernandez cost them $7.5 million, but that was a special situation and they recouped some of it.
But the Patriots have never carried $12 million in dead-cap money on one player before. The salary cap keeps increasing by $10 million each year, but $12 million is still a lot to carry for a player no longer on the team.
So what does that tell me? That the Patriots aren’t worried about Brady retiring before the 2019 season.
It certainly jibes with what Brady told Jim Gray in late April at a conference in Los Angeles.
“I’ve talked two years with my wife,” Brady said then. “I’ve negotiated that thus far. I’ve still got a little further to go.”
Given Brady’s constant waffling this offseason, why would the Patriots agree to push $5 million of dead-cap space into next year unless they knew he would be returning?
And in exchange for Brady’s commitment, the quarterback got a salary advance, and the opportunity to earn $5 million extra this season. That’s how I read it, at least.
The fact that the extra money comes in the form of incentives certainly is strange. Since when have Brady and the Patriots ever been concerned with individual performance? The Patriots have gotten soft in this regard the last few years, as Rob Gronkowski also had a significant incentive package last year based on his statistics.
For everything that Brady has meant to the Patriots, you’d think Robert Kraft would just give Brady an extra $5 million this year. Instead, the Patriots are making Brady earn it the hard way. And if Brady wants a pay bump for next year, he can’t do it until a full year has passed (Aug. 9, 2019).
Brady can reportedly earn $1 million each for finishing among the top-five quarterbacks in passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, and passing yards. Brady can also earn his incentives by winning the Super Bowl, but the package is capped at $5 million.
Brady did finish in the top five in all of those categories last year, and it’s certainly possible to do it again. Then again, it’s no slam dunk — Julian Edelman is missing the first four games and coming off a torn ACL, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks are gone, their replacements are unproven, and the Patriots play some tough defenses this year, like Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and more.
Perhaps this $5 million incentive package was all Brady could extract from the Patriots after skipping offseason workouts and waffling on his commitment.
But the end result looks like Brady has committed to playing with the Patriots through the 2019 season. And after they traded away Garoppolo to keep Brady happy, it’s the least he could do for them.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.