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The Complicated Free Agency of Tom Brady

Tom Brady is at a crossroads…and so are Pats fans.

Tom Brady by Colin Rego is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Complicated Free Agency of Tom Brady

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

As a born and raised Bostons sports, but more specifically, a New England Patriots fan (let your hate flow through you – I thrive on it), I’ve been spoiled by perhaps one of the greatest runs by any single franchise in sports history, led by arguably the greatest player of all time.  But the team faces a major crossroads and at the crux of it is an aging, 42-year-old QB with deteriorating skills that’s expecting a big payday.

Free Agency? Never Heard of it…

This is certainly not the first time that Mr. Brady has faced free agency.

Wait, yes it is. To think that a professional athlete made it 20+ years with a single organization in the free agency era is almost unheard of unless your last name is Jeter. While this is Brady’s first foray into free agency, this isn’t the first negotiation between Brady and Kraft.

This time feels different though. For the first time, the threat Brady may leave feels real and – dare I say it – likely.

The Fan’s Dueling Interests

New England fans are grappling with two realities:

  1. The emotionally-driven sentiment of Brady ending his career with the Patriots and giving us “one last run” (as he has done when pundits claimed he was “in decline” in 2014); and
  2. A more logical conclusion that Brady is not the player that he was and every additional season he sticks around, we’re further hedging our bets against the long-term future of the franchise.

What makes things more difficult is that fans fluctuate between these realities CONSTANTLY. Every day, we over-analyze and scrutinize every tweet, every story, every comment from the media like it’s the Zapruder film.

  • Mahk Davis and Brady were hanging out and crushin beahs in Vegas. Guys totally tampering with the GOAT. Fuck that guy – if he goes to the Raidahs, I’m gonna lose my fuckin mind.”
  • Hey guy, didja see that Instagram post? It had a Volunteahs banner in the stadium – you know, like Tennessee. Brady’s totally goin to the Titans. Screw that old faht – Stidham’s gonna be the real fuckin’ deal.”
  • “So my cousin’s buddy is the landscapah and does all the yahdwork for Brady – I heard he’s selling his home! It’s a wicked nice place – why would he sell it if he’s not leavin the Pats?We’re fahked next year!”

Brady’s Curiosity

As emotionally draining as the 24-hour news cycle is for sports fans in Boston, reality eventually settles in and most of us realize what all of these things mean: NOTHING. Right now, all signs point to Brady actually testing the free agency waters and having real conversations with other teams. Whether it’s leaking from Brady’s camp or just wild speculation from the 4-letter sports network, everything we’re seeing and hearing right now is working towards either keeping the NFL in focus year-round or driving up Brady’s price. It’s the last part that should scare Pats fans.

What Brady “Deserves”

Before the 2019 season, Brady signed a “3-year extension.” With the ridiculous salary cap-ology that The Hooded One works as well as any GM, it was pretty clear that Brady’s deal was nothing more than a thinly veiled 1-year extension. After getting paid $23 million in 2019, Brady’s contract would represent a cap hit of over $30 million for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. For a team with an aging core and few reliable skill-position players, that’s a number both sides seemed to recognize as unrealistic when the deal was signed.

Where Brady Stacks Up

Unfortunately for the Pats, that number does not look unrealistic for teams like the Raiders, Chargers, and Titans. With what is perhaps the single most important and impactful position in professional sports, a marquis QB moves a middling team solidly into the Conference title hunt. But what does $30 million for a QB really look like in the NFL? Let’s dive deeper by look at 2020 stats and cap hits for several QBs…

2020 QB Comparisons

  • QB A: Cap Hit – $30.7 million; 19 TD/5 INT, 64.2% Comp, 2,500 Passing Yds (shortened season – 8 games), 69.6 QBR – 6th in NFL
  • QB B: Cap Hit – $29.0 million; 26 TD/6 INT, 69.1% Comp, 3,603 Passing Yds, 58.4 QBR – 14th in NFL
  • QB C: Cap Hit – $23.0 million; 23 TD/20 INT, 66.0% Comp, 4,615 Passing Yds, 48.6 QBR – 22nd in NFL
  • QB D: Cap Hit $21.5 million; 24 TD/8 INT, 60.85% Comp, 4,057 Passing Yds, 53.7 QBR – 17th in NFL

Each of these stat lines represents an aging QBs likely considered past their prime.When looking at these numbers, QB A appears to be performing to their contract, B is on the cusp but is leaning towards being overpaid, C is likely overpaid, and D may be seen as good value.

QB A is Stafford, B is Cousins, C is Rivers, and D is Brady. To be fair, Stafford and Cousins both received large contracts over the past 2 years. In the NFL where finding franchise QBs has a similar success rate, we see record contracts for whoever’s deal is up next, despite whether or not we as fans feel they “deserve” that money. And therein lies the rub with Brady.

The GOAT vs the GM

Tommy Terrific has consistently outperformed his contract, often giving up significant sums of money through restructured deals that give Belichick and Co. the flexibility to make the signings they need to keep talent around Brady. But with what will likely end up being Brady’s final big payday, the vibe is that he is looking to cash out and make up for those lost dollars over the years.

From the Patriots organizational (and general fan perspective), Brady is much closer to a middle-of-the-pack QB than he is to being elite. If they decided to pay Brady for his “value” based on that, we’re likely talking about a deal in the range of $18-22 million AAV. Considering he didn’t seem thrilled at playing for $23 million in real dollars in 2019, something tells me those numbers simply aren’t going to fly. My guess is that his deal will land him closer to the $25-$28 million range.

While all Pats fans bow down to Belichick the Coach, Belichick the GM’s recent history of free-agent signings and draft picks have put the team in a position where they’ll have to pay for talent to stay competitive, something the organization has generally been unwilling to do, even for homegrown players. While the potential Brady contract alone may be untenable for the organization, it will likely also take some marquis free agent signings and traders for skill players to keep Brady in red, white, and blue.

The Decision

So where does this put the negotiations between Brady and New England? At this point in his career, a QB that has proven he can elevate his team and perform in the playoffs carries a lot more value for a young, talented but largely untested team (like the Titans, Raiders, and Chargers) than he does with a team that has a) the greatest coach of all time, b) a history of getting-by with unproved QBs, and c) a high likelihood of needing to hit the “reset” button and build from scratch in the next 2-4 years.

At the end of the day, there are countless questions that Brady is likely weighing over the coming weeks:

  • What does he prioritize most – his best shot at one more ring or one more big payday?
  • If he does prefer to stay, can the Patriots surround him with the talent? Can they make a real run against some juggernauts in the AFC?
  • Will winning elsewhere finally end the perspective of him being a “system QB” that’s more a product of Belichick? (Honestly, who still thinks this is a thing? Looking at you Chris Simms…)

The Fan’s Perspective

As a first and foremost Pats fan, I want the team to remain competitive. I also want them to win – both now and in the future. In 2017/18, I was in the camp that they should have off-loaded Brady and board the Jimmy G bandwagon. Ideally, that leads to 10 more years of dominance. But I was proven wrong. Brady later hoisted that Lombardi for a 6th time and flipped the metaphorical double bird to Father time. Maybe he can do it again, but those hopes are fading as quickly as Alex Guerrero’s Concussion Water business.

I don’t want the Pats to pay Brady $25+ million but I don’t want to ride into 2020 with Jarret Stidham under center.

I want them to win now but I also want them to sustain this run.

I want to see Brady leading a few more heart-stopping 4th-quarter drives but also don’t want to see him throwing up his hands when he overthrows receivers by 10 yards.

The Grind before March 18th

The next few weeks in New England will be excruciating. Our stomachs will be in knots. We’ll spend countless hours arguing, yelling, and drinking ourselves into an unintelligible stupor and slowly drift off into an inebriated, restless sleep.

Help us out, Tom. Just stay. Or go. I don’t know…

I need a beer.

Ryan grew up outside of Boston in Waltham, MA watching the Pats, Celtics, Sox and Bruins. Despite now living in the vastly inferior sports city of NYC, he remains a die-hard Boston sports fan and is often "that guy" in the bar ridiculing NY sports. Ryan works in tech and is the Co-Founder and President of the recently incorporated Emergent TheaterWorks in NYC, a non-profit theater company focused on producing new and underdone works.



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