Last week, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter signed a big, fat, five-year, $72 million deal with $40 million guaranteed.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that my first reaction was, “Who he?”
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His name just isn’t on my radar as being a guy who would be pulling down that kind of dough. But he is. A third-round pick from LSU in 2015, Hunter had 12.5 sacks in 2016 and became a starter last season. He’s a good, young defensive end for one of the NFL’s better defenses.
Why is he relevant? Because his contract is now a comp for Trey Flowers to use as he and the Patriots try and figure a way to keep him around past 2018. Flowers – like Hunter – is entering his fourth season. He basically missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury after being drafted in the fourth round out of Arkansas.
In 2016, he emerged as a rising star with seven sacks in the regular season and 2.5 more in the playoffs. Last year, he had six sacks. He is the Patriots best young pass-rusher.
But – as the recent past has shown – the Patriots are not afraid to slow play negotiations with their defensive players or turn them into trade pieces.
It wasn’t long ago that a running offseason conversation revolved around how the Patriots would keep Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins and Malcolm Butler. They couldn’t keep them all, but a combination of three seemed imperative. The team was squirreling money away.
Then they traded Jones away in early 2016 before trading Collins on Halloween. The team let Hightower test the market as a free agent in early 2017 and he came back for less than what we all figured he’d make. And the Patriots let Butler walk away this offseason.
So one remains and he stayed for less.
Whether that’s a cautionary tale for Flowers or not, we don’t yet know. There’s really nothing not to like about his game. He’s a technician. He wouldn’t say crap if he had a mouthful (that’s an old saying of my mother’s). He’s pretty durable. He’ll be good for a while.
It’s easy to imagine the Patriots getting sticker shock after seeing the money thrown at Hunter. But – bizarre as it sounds - $72M isn’t what it used to be. The salary cap was $120M in 2011 when the new CBA started. It’s now $177M.
So-called “reasonable” contracts are obsolete within a year or two. Consider, Hunter’s teammate Everson Griffen signed a deal that was 4-58-34 last offseason and he’s considerably more accomplished than Hunter.
Time isn’t running out on the Patriots by any means. They can play it out with Flowers all the way through this season and right into free agency next year and then decide if whatever he’s offered is too rich for their blood.
Be certain of this, though. If Flowers has a similar season to his last two, teams will look at his work in the New England defense, compare that to what Jones has been able to do since he’s been untethered in Arizona and then bid accordingly. And it will get steep.
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Somebody needs to tug on Tom Brady’s sleeve and let him know that fun’s fun, but he’s drifting into Brett Favre territory now.
Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed since the Oprah Orchard Interview in which Brady said his retirement was coming “sooner rather than later” and there he was on Instagram Tuesday afternoon insinuating in Spanish that he’s back to playing until he’s 45.
Given that he’s 40 right now and his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, 45 seems like later not sooner.
That’s standard fare this offseason.
There was Couch Brady in the Super Bowl aftermath, wondering what he’s doing it for anyway.
We had Robert Kraft in May saying that “as recently as two days ago [Brady)] assured me he’d be willing to play six, seven more years.”
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Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, said in March, “I think this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons -- I mean, this is just me, the guy who has been around him for a while now -- I’d have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see.”
Last month, Brady said he’s negotiated “two more seasons” with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.
During TvT, he said he was chasing “two more Super Bowls. That can be shorter than five or six years.”
Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."
I’m not feeling the firm. Nor, it seems, are most people who have grown weary of the ping-ponging expiration dates Brady keeps floating.
I think you have to be either absent-minded or amazingly entitled to say with a straight face that Brady “owes” the Patriots, the fanbase or the media a hard answer on his retirement.
The guy has generated billions of dollars for the franchise. He’s provided 37 games -- more than three seasons -- of postseason football for the fans to revel in. He’s created almost two decades worth of content for us in the media to gravy train off of.
Until this past calendar year, Brady hasn’t outwardly put his family or personal “brand” anywhere near the top of the pedestal where football and the Patriots resided.
Now that he’s done so, some people (read: “morons”) don’t merely consider it jarring, they feel it rises to a betrayal of the bygone Brady, of Simple Tom and The Patriot Way, which was always a naïve concept anyway.
Fortunately, Brady has a ways to go to match Favre’s Hamlet routine.
The former Packers quarterback started noodling about retirement after the 2005 season. Same thing after 2006. After the 2007 season -- in March of 2008 -- he actually announced his retirement.
Annnnnd by July he’d changed his mind and wanted back in. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers more than ready to succeed Favre, told Favre to screw. He did. Favre played three more seasons with the Jets and Vikings, then retired. The three-year post-Green Bay wandering hardly seemed worth it and the annual “is he in or is he out?” conversation was a tedious exercise.
By comparison, Brady has years of waffling to go. But he’s definitely come out of the blocks fast with crazy promises of longevity.
Last May, barely 13 months ago, Brady was telling ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t keep playing past 45 if he still felt good.
“I’ve always said my mid-40s,” Brady said. "And naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."
And 50? Why not?
"If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70,” Brady said in the same interview. “I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms.”
That interview was one of a handful Brady did with the aim being to promote the TB12 Method. There was ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the book, the app and the Tom vs. Time docuseries, which began filming last summer. Having won his fifth ring, the time was right to maximize visibility. If that approach ran contrary to Patriots customs, well . . . sorry. What’s the worst that can happen?
How about a poorly-concealed, season-long pissing contest in which Brady was assailed for having changed and the coaching staff was assailed for being restrictive and unreasonable?
Which spawned Contemplative Tom, sitting on his couch during the final installment of TvT pondering what he’s doing it all for.
I’m not sure Brady really appreciates how big this story -- his ultimate retirement -- truly is. Not just here but to sport in general. He should; he grew up rooting for Joe Montana. He understands Jordan and Tiger and Kobe.
Just before the Super Bowl, he was asked about retiring and he replied, “Why does everyone want me to retire?”
Was he being disingenuous? Or does he not get that his and the Patriots stranglehold on the NFL isn’t like Jordan’s on the NBA. It’s closer to Godzilla’s on Japan, and that every other NFL team and fanbase is counting the seconds until he walks.
That’s why every throat-clearing, every pause, every social media “like” is scrutinized for clues as to which way he’s ultimately leaning.
Maybe he doesn’t care. “Take Nothing Personal” is one of The Four Agreements. But the mixed messages -- over a period of time -- probably don’t help the brand.