It’s gridiron gospel that Tom Brady has nothing left to prove in a gilded career entering its 20th season. He has defied the athletic actuarial tables and the state-mandated parity of the NFL to serve as the linchpin of a football dynasty defined by his longevity and unprecedented jewelry (six Super Bowl rings). But Brady is going to have to prove to Bill Belichick, the satrap of Patriot Place, that he’ll keep aging gracefully under center.
On paper, Brady and the Patriots found middle ground Sunday on a two-year contract extension worth $70 million that will keep the 42-year-old quarterback with the team into the onset of middle age, through the 2021 season. In reality, that “extension” is a fancy financial facade with nothing behind it. It’s a Brady Band-Aid. Like a home on the set of a television program, it’s designed to look real from the outside, but it’s just empty framework.
The sides avoided the awkward dance of Brady playing out the final year of his contract at a below-market rate, providing him remunerative redress by bumping his 2019 pay from $15 million to $23 million. That’s about it. The next two seasons at $30 million and $32 million are ghost years, void and eminently avoidable.
If you think Brady’s latest compact with the Krafts guarantees that he’ll finish his career a Patriot, you’re wrong. Brady doesn’t have a proven set of reliable receivers in 2019, and he doesn’t have a long-term commitment from the team. Brady’s contract situation is like the Patriots’ passing attack. It’s based on stitching together quick, short connections to reach the end zone. Brady is on a prove-it play and pay as you go plan. This contract does nothing to change that.
But it’s certainly more palatable than last year when he had to grovel for $5 million in performance-based incentives that he never sniffed, as the team threw Belichick a bone by preserving the Fort Foxborough chain of command. The Patriots fully recognized Brady deserved more money and gave it to him, no strings attached, making him the sixth-highest-paid QB in 2019 while simultaneously trimming his unwieldy $27 million salary cap number. It was the least they could do after Brady has submitted himself to a lifetime of below-market deals.
We’re in the Brady endgame now, and a happy ending isn’t a Foxborough fait accompli. Before anyone gets apoplectic, realize that this is uncharted territory — for both sides — with unknowns. There are reasons for both sides to sanction a shorter deal. Know that this latest contract was done with mutual trust, respect, and understanding to revisit it after this season. It’s a Patriot Place placeholder, a pin put in the conversation about a path forward to focus on lifting the Lombardi Trophy again.
It was notable that Brady’s former teammate and current NBC analyst Rodney Harrison recently stated that he believes Brady is kind of year-to-year at this point. Professing that you want to play until age 45 and actually doing it are two different things. Even if that goal is physically attainable for Brady through his maniacal adherence to dietary and training methods, at a certain point it may no longer be personally desirable.
Brady prioritizes pliability in his training. He also needs flexibility in his personal life. He does not just exist to play quarterback for the Patriots. He’s a husband, father, and son. As he has stated increasingly over the years, his playing career requires a great deal of sacrifice from his loved ones, including his supermodel spouse, Gisele Bundchen. It requires their dreams and desires to take a backseat to Brady’s singular drive during the season. He emphasized this point again during his first media availability of training camp.
“The last couple years it has been great for me to spend the offseasons with them, and really fill up that bucket and give them the time, support, and love that they need,” said Brady of his family. “When I’m here doing my thing, my wife’s got to hold down the fort, and she has put a lot on hold over the years to support my dreams.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility as a husband to do the same for her. She’s happy when I get back to football because she knows how happy I am. It was a great offseason, but now it’s time for football, and I think everyone in our family is prepared for that.”
There was a report recently that Brady was looking at real estate in two tony suburbs of New York City, Alpine, N.J., and Greenwich, Conn.
It feels like a year-to-year evaluation for both sides. Belichick has to see that Brady is still worth the investment required for a franchise quarterback. Brady has to reconcile taking time away from his real home team, his family. The latter might be tough to swallow for some Patriots fans after Jimmy Garoppolo was shipped out of town in 2017, leaving the Patriots with no clear heir apparent to Brady and no clear succession plan at the position, unless rookie Jarrett Stidham turns out to be another Belichick QB discovery.
The idea of this latest contract was flexibility for both sides and an attempt to not allow either side to hold a gun to the head of the other. The Patriots have pledged not to use the franchise tag on Brady, and as NFL Network first reported, there’s language in Brady’s contract that prohibits them from doing so.
Sources: #Patriots QB Tom Brady’s new deal includes a provision that does not allow NE to franchise or transition tag him for the 2020 season. The final two years automatically void on the last day of the 2019 league year, but he cannot be tagged. Brady will be a free agent.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 5, 2019
But it feels like the team is balancing the scales between Brady and Belichick after the cold-war tension of 2017 and the following offseason. Brady is practically a Kraft family member, but Belichick will have significant say in how Brady’s final chapter is handled.
The real criticism of Belichick and the Patriots regarding Brady at this point in his career isn’t how they compensate him. It’s how they complement him. Instead of lightening his load as he ages, they’re making Brady’s burden of carrying the passing attack heavier. He’s saddled with unreliable (Josh Gordon), unremarkable (Phillip Dorsett), uncertain (Demaryius Thomas), or unproven options (N’Keal Harry) at wide receiver outside of Brady BFF Julian Edelman. Also, there is a huge question mark as to who is going to be protecting Brady’s blind side at left tackle.
This deal adds up to creative salary cap accounting. The Patriots gained an additional $5.5 million of salary cap room. Brady’s base salary for this season, which was slated to be $14 million, will now be in the neighborhood of $1.75 million with the rest of his money coming in up-front bonus form.
But the idea that this is a long-term commitment between Brady and the Patriots is creative writing, fiction. His future in Foxborough beyond this season remains a to-be-continued conversation.
That circumstance is a bigger deal than this new deal.