Tom Brady’s contract works both ways
This item originally appeared in Ben Volin’s Sunday Football Notes column.
My biggest takeaway from Tom Brady’s new contract, which pays him $23 million in 2019, then automatically voids on the final day of the league year (March 17):
This wasn’t quite another case of Brady and the Patriots working hand in hand. This was more of a true negotiation — both sides got something of value, but also made concessions.
It’s pretty clear the Patriots held firm to two beliefs: Brady will not get an actual extension, and won’t get paid at the top of the quarterback market. Brady, though, wrestled control of the timing of the situation. Next spring, Brady holds more of the cards.
Let’s break it down:
■ The raise from $15 million to $23 million is nice, but Brady still ranks 13th among quarterbacks in average annual salary. Russell Wilson ($35 million average), Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, Drew Brees , Andrew Luck and — yes — Alex Smith still make more than Brady on a per-year basis. The reality is Brady is 42, and is coming off a down year by his standards.
But the Patriots didn’t totally stiff Brady, either. It can’t be a coincidence that Brady got essentially the same deal that Brees is on this year: $23 million in pay, two void years on the back end, and a No Franchise or Transition Tag clause.
■ The Patriots really must not have wanted to give Brady an actual extension, though, because the contract is not the savviest cap management. When the deal voids March 17, the Patriots will automatically take a $13.5 million cap hit for 2020 (the final two years on the $20.25 million signing bonus he just received). Even if Brady re-signs in free agency, any contract must start with a $13.5 million cap hit, which could result in a fairly large number.
It would have been better cap management to give Brady two actual years on the back end of the contract, which would have allowed the Patriots to spread the cap hits to $6.5 million in 2020 and 2021 should he walk away next year. But the Patriots look pretty adamant about going year to year with Brady and not locking themselves into any commitment.
■ As for next spring, Brady is set to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, come March 18. However, nothing is set in stone. Brady and the Patriots can still negotiate a new deal before the current one voids. If Brady signs a new one-year deal before March 18, there would still be the $13.5 million cap hit. If he signs a new two-year deal, it would start with a $6.75 million cap hit.
■ This is where Brady came out ahead — he now controls the timing of the situation next spring. If the Patriots want the cap relief for 2020, they need to negotiate a deal with Brady by March 17. No more of this waiting around until August, then offering Brady (relative) scraps. And they can’t put the Franchise or Transition Tag on Brady, giving them one fewer negotiating tool.
The Patriots and Brady can always do a new deal after March 18, but it will start with that $13.5 million cap hit. It would be much better for the team – cap-wise and PR-wise – to get a deal done with Brady sooner instead of dragging it out all offseason.
I’m sure Brady would have rather signed a true extension now, and would have liked to get paid more. But he did score a victory by taking control of the timing.
■ Speaking of timing, Brady signed the deal Aug. 5, confirming the debated point that he didn’t have to wait a full calendar year (Aug. 9) to sign a new contract. And it calls into question why the Patriots didn’t get this done earlier. Sure, they created $5.5 million in salary-cap space, which they can always roll over to next year. But they knew all spring that Brady would be their quarterback this year, and knew they would restructure his deal for cap-saving purposes. Why did they wait until August? Had they done this back in March, they could have used the cap dollars on a Jared Cook or some other help on the roster.
■ Finally, the two void years have oddly specific salaries, considering Brady will never earn them: $30 million in 2020, and $32 million in 2021. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but add in the $23 million, and what you get is a three-year deal worth $85 million – an average of $28.3 million per year.