Patriots

Patriots

There’s one of those “JUST PAY THE MAN!” uprisings going on around Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott.

Since last summer, the Cowboys have been trying to hammer something out with this very good player. But even though they’ve worked out fat deals with Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper (six years, $90M for Elliott with $50M guaranteed; 5-100-60 for Cooper), they haven’t gotten it done with Prescott.

Last week, Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones reiterated that they’re trying to pay Prescott (who is currently on the franchise tag at $31.4M).

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Speaking to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Jones said, “We’ve tried to pay him, and he has to accept what we want to pay him. But the deal’s got to be right for Dak, it’s gotta be right for us. As you know, the salary cap makes this a zero-sum game for owners. This is not something where Jerry and myself are trying to save money so the Cowboys can make more money for the Jones family. …

“There’s all sorts of analytics out there that show if your quarterback takes up too big a percentage of your salary cap, it decreases your chances to win,” Jones said. “We’re just trying to figure out the right fit.”

Naturally, pointing out there’s a finite amount of money ($198M is the 2020 cap number) to spread across the entire roster was somehow inflammatory to some.

 

The argument voiced boiled down to this: “It’s Dak’s turn, he should get the biggest deal like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson and so many others did before him. It’s not his problem that it’s a zero-sum game. Just be a better GM.”

And this is why the Patriots — despite the love, appreciation and well-deserved reverence they have for Tom Brady — aren’t unhappy to be out of the franchise quarterback business for a while.

The position is a money pit. And the return teams get when they allocate too much to that position makes it practically impossible to build a balanced roster.

Not only was Stephen Jones dead-on, Robert Kraft articulated the same sentiment seven years ago.

Speaking to Peter King in March of 2013 after Brady signed a team-friendly extension, Kraft said, "I was just trying to stay ahead of the curve. If we were going to have to pay him elite-quarterback money and have elite-quarterback cap numbers, I just didn't think we would be able to build a team. We don't want to have a team where we're paying 18 to 20 percent to a player on the cap. I wanted to do something elegant that would work for everybody.”

Worked pretty well. The Patriots played in seven straight AFC Championships, went to four Super Bowls and won three Lombardis after Brady signed that deal.

As you may have heard, there was significant wrangling by Brady beginning in early 2017 for a deal that would pay him more and ensure he’d end his career as a Patriot. In the end, he got neither and now he’s a Buccaneer.

From 2011 through 2019, Brady took up 11, 6.6, 11.2, 11.1, 9.8, 8.9, 8.4, 12.3 and 11.4 percent of the Patriots salary cap.

The highest percentage of the cap Brady ever took up was 13.6 in 2006 when he had a cap hit of $13M. That was the only time Brady was over 13 percent of the cap. Contrast that to Peyton Manning who, it should be pointed out, came into the league as the No. 1 overall pick and not the 199th. Manning took up more than 13 percent of his team’s cap eight times. Manning took up 20.5 percent of the Colts' cap in 2003.

The year the Colts won a Super Bowl (2006), he took up 10.4 percent of the cap. The year he threw a pick-six to Tracy Porter of the Saints in the final game (2009) he took up 17.9 percent of the cap.

Remember the rallying cry in 2012 as Joe Flacco moonballed his way to a championship? It was like Dak’s now. “Pay the man!” The year the Ravens won it, Flacco consumed 6.6 percent of the cap. In his last three years with the Ravens, he took up 14.5, 14.7 and 14 percent of the cap. Last year, the Steelers put 13.9 percent of their cap into 37-year-old Ben Roethlisberger. He played one game. He’ll take up 12 percent this year at 38 years old and apparently in the same approximate shape as a dangerous cleanup hitter on a slow-pitch softball team.

 

And people in New England think the Patriots are going to be in the market for Aaron Rodgers if and when he gets phased out in Green Bay?

Come on. Are we not paying attention even a little?

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These were all the $20M or more cap hits in 2019 (in order): Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Brady, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Alex Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Of the 15, Brady, Rodgers, Cousins, Brees, Garoppolo and Wilson were the only ones to take playoff snaps. That’s one-third.

Will it be harder for the Patriots to win on any given Sunday in 2020 with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback and not Tom Brady? Sure.

What about in 2021 when Brady’s money is off the books and the team has an eye-popping amount of cap space? It will probably still be harder.

But they will have far more money to shop for new players and extend the ones on their roster that they want to keep than they would have if Brady were taking up $30M. As it currently stands, the Patriots are 30th in the NFL in cap space allocated to quarterbacks. Had Brady been re-signed for even $20M after March 17, it would have been a $33.5M cap hit because of the dead money — third highest in the NFL.

You can’t live like that. Can you live without it? The Patriots would be the last team in the league to tell you they can’t.

Think about it, for 20 years they had a sixth-round pick at quarterback and they went to nine Super Bowls. In the lone year he was hurt, a seventh-round pick (Matt Cassel) won 11 games. The year he was suspended, Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo combined to go 3-1 with Brady out.

This is the party line Belichick is currently adopting. It’s got merit. To a point.

In my opinion it severely underrepresents the human safety net Brady’s been for the past 15 seasons and ignores the fact that 2008 represented a five-game dropoff against an awful schedule and that Jimmy G. couldn’t make it through six quarters in 2016 without getting hurt, but hey … we’ll find out.

The more important takeaway from Belichick saying, “We’ve done it before…” is that the organization has complete confidence in its ability to win football games with competent quarterbacks. And it has complete confidence it can create competency if the tools are present.

 

That’s why all this talk about Andy Dalton or Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers has been so much blissfully ignorant hot air belched into the no-sports void.

No thanks. The Patriots can just pin a NENA sign on the front door at Patriots Place.

No Elites Need Apply.