Play along with me for a second.
Imagine I’ve been washing your car every week for years. I’m the best car washer in the business. I leave your car sparkling outside. On the inside? You could eat off the floormats.
I give you a good deal on it. Just $50. You know that’s a killer rate. You know you can count on me to do it for less than most. You appreciate it. You make me feel like family.
I know you could pay me more. I know guys who don’t clean as well as I do get paid a LOT more. But we go back a long time and I like everything about our relationship. I have fun washing your car. But that $50? I feel a little taken advantage of.
So I tell you I want $75 and assurances I’ll get a month’s worth of your business in return for my top-notch work at that same rate.
You say, “How about $60? And I’ll think about giving you $500 for the next two washes. But after you wash it for $60 we’ll talk again and figure a fair rate.”
I’m not too fired up about that but, hell, I’m here. I got my bucket and my sponge. And $60 is more than $50. So I’ll wash your car. But I find myself saying under my breath, “I don’t know why it has to be this hard every single time. One of these days, I'm not going to wash it. See how they like that.”
Our fictional car-washing agreement is — as you probably figured — a clumsy comparison to the relationship between Tom Brady and the Patriots.
But since word of Brady’s 2019 pay raise became public on Sunday, it’s been ballyhooed as a warm agreement for Brady's services this year and into the future.
It’s not. It’s just a raise. And a fairly modest one at that.
Why did Brady take it? Because, in the end, he loves playing football for the New England Patriots. He loves what they’ve built, loves his teammates and, yes, loves the head coach and the owner. Folding his arms and refusing to play? That’s not him. The competition is more important than the money. The legacy is more important than the money. But the money is not wholly unimportant to him.
So please, strike the mental image of Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft skipping down the road hand-in-hand after this “extension” was agreed to. Even if that’s the image the Patriots prefer the public have, especially with the $30M and $32M placeholder salaries for 2020 and 2021 included as garnishing.
It's not hard to figure the Patriots' approach here.
Belichick doesn’t want to listen to agitations all year about Brady being in his “walk year.” It’s annoying, distracting and feeds a negative perception of how the team does business.
The main benefit to the “extension” for Belichick was the opportunity to lower Brady’s 2019 cap hit and give the team flexibility this year. By penciling in voidable salaries, he avoids marrying the team to a pay rate for 43-year-old Tom Brady until he sees how 42-year-old Tom Brady looks.
That’s his job so there’s nothing wrong with him doing it.
Meanwhile, the Patriots aren’t valued at nearly $4B because Kraft makes emotional decisions. We all know that, if push ever comes to shove, Brady playing in another city on Kraft’s watch has as much chance of happening as the Patriots in Hartford.
But Kraft is also going to do all he can to avoid putting the Patriots in a financial position similar to the one the Saints have gotten themselves in with Drew Brees. Every time Brees has renegotiated and extended, he’s gotten guaranteed money as well.
So now Brees’ cap hit for 2020 is $21.3M. And that’s before he even agrees to play for them next year since Brees — like Brady — is “year-to-year” and 2020 is a voidable year. If the Saints pay Brees $25M next year, his cap hit will be $46M. It’s insane. It’s bad business. And the Patriots weren’t going to do it.
Which brings us to Brady, who is now holding an interesting hand.
The Patriots can’t franchise him next February since they have agreed to that voidable year. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else, but he’s never experienced professionally autonomy either and he actually has it.
So when the Patriots come to him after a season in which Brady — surrounded by a mostly unimposing collection of receivers — fails to tear it up statistically, they won’t be starting near $30M with their 2020 salary offer. They probably won’t even be looking to give him a raise from $23M for his 43-year-old season.
And if a standoff ensues? The Patriots will have to void Brady’s deal and make him a free agent or pay him the $30M. Imagine a Tom Brady Free Agent Tour?
The Patriots keep calling Brady’s bluff and every time he’s thrown down his cards. This time, though, he’s got a better hand than the Patriots in terms of being able to say, “Pay me or I’m leaving.”
Again, the likelihood of that happening is remote. But the Patriots didn’t lock Brady down with this “extension.” They actually opened the door for him to go through. And that’s an outcome nobody wants to see.
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