Monday the New England Patriots inked superstar quarterback Tom Brady to a three-year contract extension that could keep him in Foxboro though age 40 and ostensibly the rest of his playing career, according to a report from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
Brady’s contract will pay him only $27 million until 2017, a stunningly low figure that becomes even more notable when you break it down by annual value. Number 12 will be paid only $7 million in 2015, $8 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017 – a bargain to say the least for a quarterback of Brady’s caliber.
To put that in perspective, Kevin Kolb will earn at least $9 million in 2013 and potentially $10 million next year.
Of course, all that money is guaranteed, and Brady made $3 million in a signing bonus. And there are risks to committing guaranteed cash to a player in his late 30s. But, the risks are negligible considering that the extension allows the Patriots to lock up a Hall of Fame player for a sum that is significantly below market value.
That said, the extension likely wasn’t made because the Patriots felt they needed long-term stability at QB. The true benefit is the short-term salary cap flexibility the Patriots will now enjoy as a result of Brady’s discount contract.
As King reports, the extension means Brady’s salary adds up to $28.6 million against the cap over the next two years, down from $43.6 million in that same time span. That will be big help for New England, considering that most observers expect the NFL’s cap numbers to remain flat for the next few years.
So what’s the benefit for Brady?
Put simply, that extra financial flexibility means the Patriots now have the space to make sure Brady’s final days in Foxboro aren’t a waste. It’s not the first time Brady has sacrificed cash for potential wins – he restructured his deal after the 2005 season to ensure the team had the space to sign top talent.
Of course, last time, the Pats chose to let Brady’s favorite target – Deion Branch – leave for more money in Seattle. Is it fair to say that Brady might have earned the right to dictate where all that money he’s surrendering ends up this time around?
The obvious assumption is that New England will turn around and sign Brady’s newest safety blanket, Wes Welker. He was one of three players expected to be in contention for the franchise tag this offseason, but Ian Rapaport and Albert Breer of the NFL Network say that won’t happen, and instead it seemed likely even before the Brady extension that Welker could be signed for five years at $8 million annually.
Considering that Brady’s extension now offers five years of extra cap space at about $8 million per year, is it fair to say that Brady agreed to the deal with the understanding that the Pats were working to re-sign Welker? The two contracts may not be inter-related, but it’s worth consideration.
Let’s say the Patriots are able to nail down a long-term contract for Welker. What’s the next step?
Some fans are already calling for additional offensive improvements – perhaps a true deep threat to replace Brandon Lloyd, or some extra WR depth to guard against the inevitable Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez injury – but with Welker locked in, the Patriots would need to turn their attention instead toward the defense.
New England has had a championship-caliber offense for the better part of the past five years, but the defense remains a step behind. The unit took several steps in the right direction last year, with the addition of pass rusher Chandler Jones, the development of Rob Ninkovich as a hard-nosed playmaker, and the surprising success of Devin McCourty in the free safety role – made possible with the addition of Aqib Talib at corner.
The Patriots must ensure the defense doesn’t take a step back in 2013, and that starts by locking down their defensive backfield. Whether that means re-signing Talib or taking a shot at a proven leader like Ed Reed, any move that preserves the integrity of that oft-beleaguered part of the team is a step in the right direction.
That’s particularly true considering standout rookie Alfonzo Dennard will likely miss playing time as the result of his recent conviction of assault of a police officer in a Nebraska court, and the fact that depth players Kyle Arrington and Patrick Chung aren’t terribly likely to re-join the team in 2013.
Substantial turnover in the secondary is a concern, though the Patriots also need to consider other improvements to their front seven. Though they proved solid against the run for most of the year (they were 9th in the league for rushing yards per game), they were still middle-of-the-road when it came to pressuring quarterbacks.
Added financial flexibility courtesy of Brady, coupled with a few trades here or there (later, Ryan Mallett), may mean New England can afford to add more pass rushers through the draft or free agency.
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