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Will Buccaneers recover unearned signing bonus money from Tom Brady?

When Tom Brady stayed on with the Bucs, he received a $20 million signing bonus. Will his retirement impact the $15 million he was set to receive on Feb. 4?

As explained over the weekend, Tom Brady’s retirement decision had nothing to do with the February 4 deadline for payment of $15 million in deferred signing bonus money. Now that he has retired, what happens?

He’s still entitled to the $15 million. However, Brady’s contract from March 12, 2021 (a copy of which PFT has obtained) includes standard forfeiture language -- along with standard language allowing the teams, “in its sole discretion, to deduct and set off at any time and from time to time all or any part of any sums owed by Player to Club from any current, deferred or future wages, salaries, bonuses, performance-based pay, postseason pay, severance pay, termination pay, injury protection benefit and/or any other additional consideration owed to Player by Club.” (Emphasis added.)

Because the $20 million applied to a five-year contract, the signing bonus attaches to the contract at the rate of $4 million per year. By playing one year, Brady “earned” only $4 million of the bonus. Technically, he owes $16 million.

The more fair approach would be to regard the contract for what it was, a two-year deal with a $20 million signing bonus. If anything, the amount the Bucs request should be at most $10 million, half of the amount Brady didn’t earn by performing only half of the contract.

If the Buccaneers see it that way, they’d pay him $5 million on Thursday and keep the other $10 million. Brady technically doesn’t have much leverage here; he’s bound by the contract he signed and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The real question for the Bucs is whether they want to exercise forfeiture rights against a player who brought the team a Super Bowl win in 2020, and who made them extremely relevant in 2021.

In theory, the Bucs could simply cut Brady the $15 million as a parting gift. Given everything the team gained by his decision to join the Buccaneers, it wouldn’t be difficult to justify.