Is Tom Brady Truly Selfless, or Just Part of a Number-Moving Game?

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIMarch 4, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots drops back to pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2013 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 20, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After his contract restructure last week, Tom Brady has vaulted himself into a new stratosphere in the realm of selflessness.

Or has he?

Brady has a net worth of about $100 million so it is easy to see why he would take a so-called pay cut in the name of winning. Brady already has plenty of financial stability in his life, so why not do everything he can to ensure he does not feel the sting of losing that he has felt every year since 2004?

Yes, assuming he plays out his deal, he will make less money that he was previously scheduled to get—but is he truly the martyr he has been portrayed as?

Breaking Down the Deal

Brady signed a three-year, $27 million extension last week, bringing his yearly average down to $12.3 million per season, which is near the elite quarterback poverty line.

For context, Joe Flacco, the quarterback he lost to in the AFC Championship game, just became the highest paid player in NFL history, signing a deal what would allow him to average a whopping $20.1 million per season.

This makes Brady look like a martyr, taking money out of his own pocket so the team can use the money elsewhere on free agents to win games. While his total salary is lower, Brady did not sign this extension with nothing to gain for himself.

The only money that truly matters in the NFL is guaranteed money—after all, each player is just one play away from a career-ending injury. Financial security is a commodity of extreme scarcity in America’s most popular league. Brady exchanged total value for security, earning a $30 million signing bonus for simply signing his John Hancock. He will have base salaries of $1 million and $2 million in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

How much does this save the Patriots in terms of cap space? Here are Brady’s cap hits over the next five years, per SI:

  • 2013: $13.8 million 
  • 2014: $14.8 million 
  • 2015: $13 million 
  • 2016: $14 million 
  • 2017: $15 million

For the Patriots, this contract almost makes too much sense to be real. They have Super Bowl-or-bust expectations every season, which is predicated on Brady playing healthy and on an elite level anyway. If you are going to gamble $30 million, you might as well put it on the right arm of Brady.

Still, the question remains: why exactly would Brady take such a massive cut in salary?


Setting Pride Aside

Yes, Brady has plenty of money to his name and a few extra million bucks off the books is not going to put him out on the street, but $5 million is still $5 million no matter how you slice it.

What is often lost in the fact that NFL players (and professional athletes in general) make relatively gaudy salaries, is the truth that they have rare abilities that do not last as long as normal trades and skills do. You can be a lawyer, doctor or accountant for decades without losing your skills.

Meanwhile, the average NFL career is 3.5 years. Players are not allowed to violate a contract, but teams are—they can even trade your contract without your consent. When you incorporate the long-term physical effects from playing such a physical contact sport, it is difficult to come up with a sound reason to suggest why players are overpaid.

Another aspect of contract negotiations is how much players value their status in the league in terms of how they are paid relative to other players. Flacco did not want to be the highest-paid player because he needs $20 million every season to live off; he wanted to be treated like an elite player after being bashed all season for being mediocre.

Darrelle Revis held out in 2010 because he was making less than Nnamdi Asomugha, despite proving his superiority during the season.

Drew Brees held out last summer because the Saints were hesitant to offer him elite quarterback money

What is most impressive about Brady taking a pay cut is not the fact that he can afford one less Maserati. What makes this so impressive is that Brady simply does not care about labels or winning sports talk debates; he just wants to win at this point in his career.

When Brady was younger, it was clearly more important to him that he be the highest-paid player (at some point). A former sixth-round pick who defied the odds to win three titles, every big extension he signed was another way for him to remind everyone how big of a mistake they made when they overlooked him when he came out of Michigan.

Set to be 36 at the start of the season, Brady’s interests are no longer focused on proving everyone wrong—he already did that. Plenty of times.

Coming off his eighth consecutive season without hoisting a Lombardi trophy, Brady is simply willing to pay a good $5 million bucks for a better chance to not go home at the end of the season with a sour taste in his mouth. If that is what it is going to cost Brady to keep Wes Welker lined up in the slot for a few more years, then so be it.

Is it Really that Much of a Sacrifice?

If you went to your boss to suggest that you take a massive slash in pay for the betterment of the company’s stock number, that would be, well, kinda weird.  

That is essentially what Brady is doing, but he is playing this game of life with a much different hand of cards.

Brady, a Hall of Fame quarterback, was not even the breadwinner of the household. His supermodel wife, Giselle Bundchen, made more than double his salary before he signed this extension. Brady can also do as many endorsements as he has time for and earn his lost salary back in a few afternoons of commercial shooting.

Therefore, the biggest hit Brady is taking is his status in the league as being paid like an elite player. However, everyone is well-aware of Brady's status as a legendary player who will go down as one of the game's greatest. Players like Flacco are still trying to earn their respect from a financial standpoint.

He is also not making any friends in the NFLPA with this new contract, which, as ESPN’s Mike Reiss points out, sets a bad precedent for future deals:

Brady, who during the lockout of 2011 served as an assistant player representative, might not make many friends among the high-ranking executives of the union with this pact. If the idea is to cash in while you can and maximize earnings, he failed. Brady could always argue that while he isn't getting the money, it will be directed to other players. Will NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith see it the same way?

So, is Brady a Martyr?

While he did gain some added financial security with added guaranteed money, there is no debating that Brady has taken a significant pay cut that will last for the rest of his contract. He will not be paid like an elite player at the game's most difficult position; instead, he will be compensated as if he irregularly made the Pro Bowl. 

Still, when you look at Brady's life and how much those few extra million dollars mean to him, with the exception of doing a few more commercials during the offseason, Brady hardly loses anything more here than a few friends inside the NFLPA.

That said, do not expect many more players to follow suit. Few players have any financial security during their football career. Even fewer have even gotten to a lucrative second or third contract to set them up financially (if they are smart about their money) for decades. Just a lucky handful have the right to argue that they deserve "elite" money. 

There is, however, one thing all NFL players not named Tom Brady have in common: none of them have supermodel wives that make more than any player in the league. 

This is not a total reworking of his contract to create a charade that Brady is taking a pay cut and he should be commended for putting aside financial greed; showering Brady with praise for his sacrifice is hardly appropriate. This contract, at this point in his career, is best for both Brady in the Patriots on just about every level. 

In the end, that is all that matters. 


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