Before Patriots quarterback Tom Brady started playing flag football yesterday with 20 Boston-area kids as part of a charitable promotion sponsored by smartwater, he gathered the children in a huddle at center court of the Tobin Community Center gym and attempted to offer some incentive, beyond catching a pass from an iconic NFL QB, for the first touchdown.
"Whoever scores a touchdown gets...we'll have to come up with something," said Brady.
Right then one of the children blurted out, "Money."
Always quick on his feet, Brady then offered up the $30,000 smartwater-shaped novelty check to benefit the Boston Centers for Youth & Families as the appropriate plume.
Money figures to be an unavoidable, if uncomfortable, subject of conversation for Brady this offseason. No. 12 is in the last year of the six-year, $60 million extension/renegotiation he signed in 2005 and making sure he doesn't play out the final year of the deal should be priority No. 1 for the Patriots this off-season.
It would send a terrible message to players and a fretful fan base already roiled by the team's near religious reluctance to pay out lucrative, long-term deals if Brady were allowed to go into the 2010 season without a new deal, regardless of how uncertain the collective bargaining landscape is in the NFL and with what seems like an impending lockout looming in 2011.
Right now the buzzword for the Patriots is financial flexibility -- wasn't that the Bruins' failed plan when the NHL lockout put the 2004-05 season on ice? -- heading into the final and uncapped year of the current CBA. But there is not a CBA agreement in the world that doesn't make signing Brady a smart business move on and off the field.
Brady is the pièce de résistance of Patriot Place and there shouldn't be even a speck of a chance of him playing elsewhere in 2011 or 2012 or whenever the next NFL season after this coming one is. This is non-negotiable, which is why you hope the sides are negotiating now.
Yesterday, Brady looked like he would have rather been picking up the tab for dinner with Bernard Pollard than discussing his financial fate.
"Umm...I really don't like...we're so fortunate to be playing," he said. "I mean I think we're way overpaid as it is, all of us. You get to go play football for a living. I love playing, and I'm very fortunate to play. I'm very fortunate to walk off the field this year and end the season without having surgery, so [the contract's] not really a concern."
Like he was at times in the beginning of the season, when his shoulder was hindering him more than his surgically-repaired knee, Brady is a little off the mark. He is not overpaid, not even close. By the salary standard set by his peers he has been underpaid for quite some time.
He'll never say that because he is well aware of the economic climate in this country and the fact that players can't win when they gripe about their contracts, even if it's completely legitimate and justified (see: Wilfork, Vince). He is not going to put any public pressure on the Patriots or owner Robert Kraft. That's not how Brady and his classy agent, Don Yee, who is the anti-Scott Boras, work.
But this time negotiations could be a little different for Brady and the Pats because he is an alternate player representative and might feel an obligation to his union brethren to not take as much of an ownership-friendly deal as he has in the past.
Brady's six-year, $60 million extension, which included $26.5 million in bonus money, was a team-friendly deal when he agreed to it in May of 2005, with two years remaining on the contract he had then. Brady did the deal more than a year after the Colts signed Peyton Manning to a seven-year, $99.7 million contract with $34.5 million in bonus money. Coincidentally, Manning's contract is also up after the 2010 season.
Manning, who turns 34 in March, is due to make $15.8 million in base salary this season. Brady is scheduled to make $3.5 million in base salary, plus a $3 million roster bonus that is due on the first day of the 2010 league year (March 5) and a little more than $6,700 in a workout bonus.
Brady's deal looks completely anachronistic in comparison to recent QB contracts.
With a year left on his deal, Peyton's brother, Eli Manning, received a seven-year, $106.9 million deal, which was actually a six-year, $97.5 million extension, last August. That same month Philip Rivers, who was entering the final year of his contract, signed a six-year, $92 million deal. The average annual value of Eli Manning's deal is $15.27 million. Rivers's deal is $15.3 million. A more pertinent number for Brady might be the $16.25 million value of the new six years of Eli Manning's deal.
Even Matt Cassel makes more than Brady now.
Brady got a taste of his football mortality in 2008 with his knee injury. He bounced back this year to throw for 4,358 yards and 28 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in what was by his standards an uneven season that was conspicuous by the absence of classic Brady comebacks, outside of the season-opener against Buffalo.
Brady turns 33 in August. He is not a wide-eyed, wonderboy anymore. He is a 10-year veteran heading into his 11th season who is likely looking at the last contract of his NFL career -- another six-year deal would take Brady to age 38.
Brady said he "loved being here" and called Boston "home" yesterday. The Patriots are the only NFL home he has ever known. Let's keep it that way.
A quarterback who has always been one of the best in the face of pocket pressure, now has to quietly and privately apply some pocket pressure to the Patriots.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.