Tom Brady is obviously the G.O.A.T.
As of Thursday morning’s opening of Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium, TB12 might also be pessimistically described as a lame duck.
When Brady jogged onto the practice field and gave a wave to his huge adoring crowd, he unofficially kicked off the final year of his existing contract.
Brady, who’ll turn 42 next week, may plan on playing until he’s 45 or even beyond, but in terms of contract his current deal – with a $14 million salary and $27 million cap hit – only runs through the end of this 2019 season.
Presumably, Brady wants to remain with the Patriots – the only team he’s played for in his 20 seasons and a place where he’s won six Super Bowl rings in nine trips to the biggest game in sports – beyond this season.
Presumably, the Patriots want Brady to remain the team’s quarterback – a positional depth chart in New England that otherwise includes a journeyman backup, a developmental mid-round rookie and a practice squader currently being asked to practice at wide receiver – beyond this season.
And yet, here we are, training camp is underway and Brady doesn’t have an extension to the deal he signed in the winter of 2016.
Not surprisingly, Bill Belichick wants nothing to do with questions about Brady’s contract to open camp.
“I'm not going to talk about player contracts or any other contracts for that matter,” Belichick deflected.
Last Brady was asked about his deal, during June’s mandatory minicamp, he seemingly jokingly told a reporter it was none of his business.
“I’ve never really talked about my contract or anything like that so I don’t really want to start doing that now,” Brady added.
In the past Brady always had a new contract before he reached lame-duck status. Over the second half of his Hall of Fame career those deals were worked out in almost man-to-man style with Robert Kraft.
Why has that not been the case this time around?
According to NBC Sports Boston, “two of the three” parties directly involved in the Brady contract decision – Brady, Kraft and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – want to get a deal done. The implication was that Belichick, leader of the football operation in Foxborough, might be the one slowing the roll on momentum toward an extension.
In a way, that’s certainly understandable. It was five years ago now that Belichick famously acknowledged Brady’s “age and contract situation” shortly after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. Since that day Brady has been to four Super Bowls, winning three. He’s added an NFL MVP and bundle of records to his New England legacy.
Still, if Belichick, ever the bottom-line, straight-laced economics major out of Wesleyan was worried about Brady’s age and contract five years ago, he’d have to have similar if not stronger concerns a half-decade later after dealing Garoppolo off to become the franchise QB in San Francisco.
But facts, details and hard-fought negotiations are for mortals, not G.O.A.T.s, regardless of their age and whether or not they’re coming off a year in which they showed relative incremental decline in play.
Barring unreal demands from either side – say Brady asking for a 10-year deal worth $50 million a year or the Patriots offering only a single-year at some disrespectful figure below $20 million annually – this is a deal that’s too important and makes too much sense not to get done. Now.
Even the market would seem to make this deal easy to do. Though Brady and the Patriots have never really needed comps from which to build their own agreements, the comps are out there. Fellow future Hall of Famer Drew Brees is on a two-year, $50 million deal, playing for essentially $25 million for the third straight season. That would appear to be the floor of any Brady extension. The ceiling, if Brady wanted to reach for it? That would be the $35 million per year Russell Wilson got in Seattle.
For years Brady has been a great soldier on the field and a good soldier when it came to contract negotiations, leaving money on the table in his insatiable pursuit of winning, a trait he shares with Belichick.
Even given Brady’s age and miniscule slippage last fall – on the way to another ring, by the way – it’s hard to envision a scenario where he wouldn’t be the best quarterback for the Patriots over the next two or three seasons. In a league where half the teams are in a continuous hunt for even a competitive quarterback, the heir in New England is unclear at best.
As training camp opened Brady was still clearly the best passer on the field and probably the best player at any position. No one wants to see him play for another team to close out his career, certainly not him Brady or the Kraft family. No one wants to see him play out the final year of this contract. No one wants the possibility of him hitting free agency – or more likely be slapped with the franchise tag next February – swirling around the media-driven mayhem in Boston for the next six months.
Belichick has made avoiding distractions, and limiting the creation of those distractions through the media, one of the underlying basics of his foundation of success in Foxborough. While other teams this summer have players arriving in Brinks trucks or holding out, the lack of a Brady extension is quietly the only potential for distraction or controversy in New England this summer.
So, take away that possibility. Get the deal done. There really is no reason not to.
As Jonathan Kraft told NFL Network a winter ago, “Brady’s earned the right” to make the decision as to when his career as the Patriots quarterback comes to an end.
Worst case scenario Brady gets a little too much money. Or an extra year. And? So what.
Of course when has Brady been involved in a worst case scenario?
Brady’s extension is a risk worth taking, one he’s earned, because really it’s no risk at all.