FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots began training camp with only one major, big-picture question facing them:
Why hasn’t Tom Brady gotten a contract extension yet?
I have been posed that question a lot this summer, and I don’t have a good answer. Because there really isn’t a good reason for Brady not to get a contract extension — even if he doesn’t know whether he wants to play past 2019.
You know the stakes by now: Brady, who turns 42 Saturday, is entering the final year of his contract. And he has never played out the final year of his deal.
But forget all of that. If nothing else, Brady’s 2019 contract is surprisingly inefficient — a horrible use of cap space by the usually savvy Patriots.
Because of previous contract restructures, Brady currently has the fourth-highest cap number in the NFL at $27 million, even though his salary is only $15 million. That $12 million gap is the largest in the NFL.
But it can easily be remedied. All the Patriots have to do is convert most of that salary into signing bonus, tack on a couple more years to the contract, and — voila! — they can create anywhere from $4 million-$8 million in cap space for this year. They can even give Brady a raise from the $15 million salary and still lower his cap number. He has probably earned it, what with the sixth Super Bowl title in February.
It’s strange that the Patriots didn’t do this in the spring, when they could have used more cap space to sign free agents (like, say, tight end Jared Cook). Now they again could use more cap space to acquire, say, Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is due an $11 million salary this year. The Patriots have only $7.49 million in cap space, so they’d have to do some Brady maneuvering plus other moves to make it happen.
The Patriots potentially are wasting a golden opportunity to improve the team by not tinkering with Brady’s contract. The whole point of paying Brady less than market value is to spread the money around to other players, right? That’s not happening this offseason.
And even if they don’t use Brady’s cap dollars on players this year, the Patriots can roll over every unused cap dollar to next year.
Finally, there’s Brady’s side of it. Maybe the quarterback isn’t sure about his future. Former teammate Rodney Harrison said over the weekend, “I do believe that Tom is kind of year-to-year, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons why he’s not pressing on a new contract.”
But signing a two-year extension doesn’t have to lock Brady in. He can still retire after 2019 if he wants. An extension would be more of a place-marker for 2020 and 2021 than a guarantee he has to fulfill.
So I’ll say it again: There’s no good reason for Brady not to get a new contract this training camp.
Unless . . .
Unless there are some issues that are preventing Brady or the Patriots from coming to the negotiating table.
I guess it’s possible that Brady doesn’t want an extension. But as mentioned above, I find little reason for him not to want one — especially since an extension would involve a large lump-sum signing bonus.
And when Brady held his first media availability of training camp Wednesday, he sounded like a guy who still wants to play until he’s 45.
“I have a great time. I love the sport,” he said following a practice in 95-degree heat. “I’ve been playing it since I was a kid. Hard for me to imagine doing anything else in life. I love playing ball. To still be out here at 41, soon to be 42, is a pretty great thing for me.”
Brady didn’t want to talk much about his contract, sidestepping a few questions about going year-to-year to finish out his career.
“We’re all day-to-day, if you think about it,” Brady said before turning more serious. “I’m trying to do the best I can do today, and let those things work themselves out.”
But the impression I got is that Brady is as curious as the rest of us as to why he hasn’t gotten a new contract.
At the end of his interview, Brady was asked if he thinks he deserves an extension.
“Have I earned it? I don’t know, that’s up for talk-show debate,” he said. “What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on.”
Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on. He said it with a laugh, but this is the second day in a row I’ll reference the adage: There’s truth behind every joke.
Could Brady be having trouble getting Kraft to sit down at the table?
“No, like I said, we’ve got a great relationship, so we’ll see how it goes,” Brady finished.
Bill Belichick may have had the more telling response about Brady’s contract when he was asked about it Saturday by NFL Network’s Willie McGinest.
“Right now, all of us are just focused on this year. We want to have a good season,” Belichick said.
Sounds like code for the Patriots want to see how Brady plays at 42 before deciding how much to commit to him at 43.
In theory, that’s not unreasonable at all.
Brady’s at an age where no quarterbacks have played at an MVP level.
But this is Brady. He just won another Super Bowl, and he keeps saying he wants to play several more years.
And his contract is an inefficient waste. There’s no reason not to restructure his deal.
There is still plenty of time in training camp to get it done. But Brady sounds just as curious as the rest of us as to why it hasn’t happened yet.