"People don't want to see well-to-do owners and well-to-do players squabbling about money." -- Patriots owner Robert Kraft, last October.
No they don't, especially when the well-to-do owner is Kraft and the well-to-do player is Tom Brady. That's not to suggest there is a quarrel between the Kraft family and their franchise quarterback. But with training camp commencing a week from today, what there clearly is not is any tangible sign of progress toward a new contract for Brady, who is heading into the final year of the six-year deal he inked in 2005.
The only holdout involving Brady is not coming from him, but the Patriots. He shouldn't have to threaten not to show up to camp to get a new contract. That's not how it worked for Eli Manning or Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler, all of whom got lucrative extensions worth north of $15 million within the last 11 months.
The Patriots are playing a dangerous game here with their most valuable asset. He has never started a season in the final year of a contract. It should never get that far, and it shouldn't have gotten this far now. Brady's future should not even be a topic for discussion seven days before the start of the 2010 season. It's an unwelcome distraction that both Brady and a teetering team don't need, but are going to have to deal with until there is a deal keeping him safe and sound in Fort Foxborough.
The CBA has become a rather convenient bit of CYA for the Patriots not to cut Brady a big, fat check.
Yes, there is looming collective bargaining uncertainty in the NFL -- although there certainly will be a lockout in 2011 -- that complicates a deal for Brady or his Colts counterpart Peyton Manning, who is also heading into the last year of his contract. Structuring a contract that will stand up to the new CBA is akin to constructing a building with a blueprint from memory, there simply aren't any foolproof guidelines to follow.
Yet, it's foolhardy to prevent that from locking up Brady. Bring Brady back on the mega-contract he deserves and then once the new CBA is nailed down -- as two of the most influential people in the NFL, Robert Kraft and his team-president progeny, Jonathan Kraft, have a pretty good idea of what the framework will look like -- adjust and build the team around him.
The only thing worse than doing a cap-crippling contract for Brady is not doing one and gambling that the NFL will be able to rout the NFL Players Association and force a deal that meets all the owners' demands while giving up nothing in return. There are already signs the NFLPA is targeting the abolition of the franchise tag as a major ownership concession.
Then you're Jeremy Jacobs and the Bruins after the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. Brady could simply say goodbye, Foxborough, and hello, San Francisco 49ers or Los Angeles Jaguars.
One thing that NFL owners, who are lavishly successful businessmen, seem to forget sometimes is that in the NFL the player is the product they're selling. They're not peddling an inanimate product like an iPod or a cool corporate logo. They're peddling the players and the team, not to be confused with the organization. Team and organization are not synonyms. One is a competitive athletic entity, the latter is a business venture.
For there to be a Patriot Way, Patriot Place, a Patriot "brand" and three Lombardi Trophies in the lobby there had to be Tom Brady. His value to the franchise, on and off-the field, is not immeasurable. It's quite the opposite.
A Forbes magazine study pegged the Patriots as the fifth-most valuable sports franchise in the world at $1.36 billion. That is a testament to the brilliant business acumen of the Kraft family, but also to the fact that everybody loves to be associated with a winner, which is what Brady and coach Bill Belichick transformed the franchise into.
Forbes also recently released a list of the highest-paid coaches in professional sports. Belichick was No. 2 on the list by Forbes, which calculated his salary at $7.5 million, making him the highest-paid coach in the NFL. But while the Patriots and Belichick are on these most valuable lists, the Patriots most valuable asset is not.
Yesterday, Sports Illustrated released its Fortunate 50, a ranking of the highest-grossing American athletes, among the local athletes on the list were Kevin Garnett, John Lackey, Paul Pierce and Vince Wilfork. Even Jermaine O'Neal, thanks to the whopping $23 million he made last season in Miami, made the cut. Quite conspicuous by his absence from the financially fecund 5-0 was No. 12.
Here was the explanation that SI gave when one was requested: "Tom Brady actually came pretty close -- combined numbers of around $16.5 million. His salary was comparatively low this year, which was a product of his renegotiation back in 2007 to accommodate Randy Moss. Being that he's in the final year of his contract, I'd guess that he'll be back next year if he and the Patriots agree to a fair new deal."
If...there should be no qualifier when it comes to the QB. He is soon-to-be 33 (Aug. 3), has seen his athletic mortality via an ACL injury, and this is likely the last deal he'll ever sign. It's time for Brady to get paid what he's worth, which would be a first.
How much more of a bargain can Brady be? The season he won the Patriots their first Super Bowl his base salary was $298,000. The Patriots already got lucky once with Brady replacing Drew Bledsoe. You're not going to magically pull another Hall of Fame quarterback out of a hat, or helmet as it would be, this time around, no offense to Brian Hoyer.
If you're the Patriots you can pay Brady what he wants now or pay for it later.
...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.