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Are the Patriots handcuffed with Brady?

Posted by Albert Breer  February 28, 2010 12:10 PM

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thomasdimitroff2.jpgMost NFL types have been evasive when discussing how they're planning on handling the uncertainty of the 2010 league year from a cap standpoint. Leave it to one of, in my opinion, the best guys in the NFL -- Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, the former Patriots college scouting director -- to veer off that path and shed some light on what's ahead.

"We are going to be creative with our contracts," Dimitroff said. "There is no question about it. That's what this league is about. I think it's really taken into consideration the uncertainty. I'll be looking to see how we end up doing a lot of our contracts going forward."

I covered some of this in my Sunday Notes this morning ... And trust this: It's quite a mess that 2010 could leave behind. In fact, as you'll see here, it could affect the highest level of player.

First, there's part about cutting players without penalty. But maybe more important is the long-ranging impact of the structure of deals signed in 2010.

See, the question that Dimitroff was asked was on the temptation to front-load deals and disguise signing bonuses as first-year salaries. That will allow teams to avoid getting hit with heavy proration charges when the cap comes back. The league can try to wade through each contract and sniff that stuff out, but it'll be pretty difficult to police it.

Then, there's the issue of the 30 percent rule (players' salaries can't rise by more than 30 percent each year on deals signed now), which could prevent 2011 free-agents from signing now. And -- follow me here -- that's where things could get tricky with Tom Brady, and a lot of other vets with deals expiring after the '10 season.

tom-brady-new-england-patriots2.jpgBrady had a $5 million base salary in 2009 and is scheduled to have a base of $3.5 million in 2010. That means, if the Patriots rip up Brady's deal now and re-do him, they can't front-load money into '10, because the max they can give him in that year's base is 130 percent of his '09 base, which adds to $6.5 million. If they wait, and Brady collects his base in 2010, then the max they can give him in '11 salary is $4.55 million.

That means they almost have to load the deal up with bonuses, which could be penalized later down the line. But there is a loophole here -- The franchise tag. The franchise number for quarterbacks this year is $16.45 million, and promises to rise (maybe significantly, if Peyton Manning gets a new front-loaded deal) in 2011. That would allow the Patriots to re-negotiate off that starting point in '12, but probably would go over as well with the quarterback. Of course, by then, new rules will be place, so a lot of this might not apply.

Conversely, Manning has a $15.8 million base salary in 2010, giving the Colts more flexibility to be creative.

The bottom line: The Patriots have a complicated negotiation ahead with Brady and that's really no one's fault, since his last contract was signed in 2005. It just gives you an idea of how muddy the waters in the NFL are right now.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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