Growing disconnect in Brady contract talks

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Tom Brady(notes) is back in Boston this week, participating in offseason training activities for the New England Patriots and preparing for what he hopes will be another Super Bowl run. While most of the region's sports fans are immersing themselves in the NBA Finals and chanting "Beat L.A.," New England's most beloved sports hero will be a fixture at the Pats' training facility in Foxborough, planning to hang around at least through the team's June 15-17 minicamp.

Then Brady will likely return to Los Angeles, where he has spent the bulk of his time since the Pats' 33-14 playoff defeat to the Baltimore Ravens last January, and where he and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, are having a sizeable home built.

Make no mistake – there has been a cool distance between Brady, who turns 33 in August, and the organization over the past few months, and not just of the physical variety.

Entering the final year of the $60 million contract he signed before the 2005 season, Brady would seem to be in line for a lucrative extension that would make him one of the league's highest-paid players. Yet three months before the start of the 2010 campaign, and less than two months before training camp, there have been no substantial talks between his agents (Don Yee and Steve Dubin) and the Pats' front office, and there's a growing sense of disconnect between the two camps.

Brady declined to comment, saying he is uncomfortable discussing the subject. Last week New England owner Robert Kraft expressed confidence that the two sides would get a deal done, telling the Boston Globe, "We're very lucky to have him as our quarterback and we want him to be our quarterback for a long time into the future."

However, wanting something to happen and making it so financially are two different animals, and some people close to Brady feel the organization isn't displaying much urgency toward ensuring the latter. Conversely, the Patriots' brass, now experiencing a third consecutive offseason in which their California-raised quarterback has spent a sizeable chunk of time away from the team's facility, would probably welcome some assurances that the quarterback is content to remain on the East Coast.

It would help if the two sides started talking, but right now there is insecurity in the air. With the specter of a work stoppage following the 2010 season looming, Brady's situation seems entwined with the uncertain labor landscape, to the point where he could be angling toward prospective free agency after a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

My instincts tell me this is a remote possibility. Brady and Kraft have a strong relationship and a mutual appreciation for one another's contributions toward the franchise's decade-long run as the NFL's most successful franchise. And even though there's no guarantee that teams will still be allowed to retain the rights of at least one unrestricted free agent via the "franchise" tag once the current CBA expires, it's hard to imagine Kraft, one of the league's most powerful owners, signing off on a deal that could expose him to the departure of his best player.

Chances are, Brady will remain with the Pats long past 2010, and this will go down as a business-driven blip in their relationship.

Yet the Patriots, more than many franchises, seem to be making a concerted effort toward minimizing costs heading into the final year of the current CBA, and Brady, the team's assistant player rep, is at least nominally aligned with the NFL Players Association as it prepares for a possible lockout. It's hard not to view the apparent stagnation in Brady's contract talks through the prism of labor uncertainty.

From the team's perspective, New England's loyalty to Brady has been unwavering since he became the starter in 2001 and guided the Pats to the first of three Super Bowl triumphs in four seasons. Even after Brady tore up his knee in the first game of 2008, and backup Matt Cassel(notes) performed well as his replacement, the organization declined to entertain speculative trade offers for the 2007 league MVP, instead applying the franchise tag to Cassel and dealing him to Kansas City.

Brady, however, can't help but notice the way that the only NFL quarterback who can be considered his peer, Peyton Manning(notes), has been treated by the Colts' ownership.

Manning, who signed a reported $99.2 million contract extension in 2004 that will void after the 2010 season, looks to be in line for another unprecedented payday: Last February, five days before the Colts' Super Bowl XLIV defeat to the New Orleans Saints, Indy owner Jimmy Irsay said of a contract extension, "You know it's going to get done. I think it's clear, and we'll start on it this summer. … And it'll be the biggest [contract] in history; there's not much doubt about that."

Contrast that with the comments Kraft made to reporters in March at the NFL owner meetings in Orlando about a potential Brady extension: "Great things happen in life if you're flexible and not rigid. … We're balancing a lot of different factors in an unknown environment. We're not sleeping. It's just complicated."

It is frequently reported that, upon signing his current six-year deal in '05, Brady took less than his perceived market value – and significantly less per season than Manning – as a means of allowing the Patriots more financial flexibility to surround him with a strong supporting cast. In fairness, this was not necessarily foist upon him; though he almost certainly could have gotten more from the Pats, the quarterback targeted a deal which, he felt, would ensure that the franchise remained competitive.

Would he do that again this time around? It's difficult to gauge, but there's certainly a sense that the Pats aren't spending as aggressively as they could be, quite possibly because they believe a work stoppage is on the way.

Though the team signed nose tackle Vince Wilfork(notes) to a reported five-year, $40-million extension in March, the deal was preceded by a contentious period in which Wilfork said he would regard the impending application of the franchise tag as "a slap in the face." Two-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins(notes), a restricted free agent, remains unsigned, and more than 30 New England players, including star wideout Randy Moss(notes), are entering the final year of their contracts.

Moss is due to make $6.4 million this season, about $100,000 less than what Brady will command via salary ($3.5 million) and roster bonus ($3 million). That's a stunningly low figure for a quarterback of Brady's stature. However, it should be noted that Brady received $31.5 million in the first two years of his heavily frontloaded deal.

Money may not be the sole factor at play here. Brady, once a fixture at OTAs, drastically altered his offseason approach following 2007 season, which ended with the 18-0 Pats being stunned by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Brady's decision to spend much of his offseason time in Los Angeles coincided with the August '07 birth of his son, Jack, from a prior relationship with actress and L.A. resident Bridget Moynihan. (Brady and Bundchen have a 6-month-old son named Benjamin.)

Belichick and Brady have had a lot of success together.
(Winslow Townson/US Presswire)

To Brady's credit, he is highly motivated by a desire to be close to his elder son, even though Kraft told in March he'd prefer that Brady "be here the whole offseason" and it's reasonable to conclude that coach Bill Belichick feels similarly.

Are the coach and quarterback like-minded in terms of leadership matters? That seemed to be the case last month when Brady told Sports Illustrated's Peter King, "We've got to start listening more to coach Belichick. We've got young kids who are good players. We've got the best football coach of all time. He's got the answers. We as a team have to take the teaching and coaching we're being given. … We need to see the toughness. We need to see the commitment. Can we take the coaching?"

Three days later, news broke that the Pats would re-sign defensive end Derrick Burgess(notes), a player whose commitment has been questioned in the Pats' locker room and who last December was one of four players sent home by Belichick after showing up late to a team meeting. The move seemed to be in direct contrast to the public message Brady had just delivered.

None of this is a legitimate indication that Brady would prefer to leave Boston, but that might change if an NFL franchise were to relocate to L.A. in the next few years. Or perhaps he'd be tempted to try to play for the 49ers, the team for which he grew up rooting in nearby San Mateo.

Could things really get that ugly? Say no agreement on an extension is reached before the start of the 2010 campaign and Brady, as is likely, tables any contract discussions until the season is complete. Even if he wanted to leave via unrestricted free agency, the Pats would surely franchise him. At that point Brady could threaten to stay away until the 10th week of the season before signing his one-year tender, surrendering only a pro-rated share of his salary and potentially extending the stalemate into another offseason. It's possible such a nightmarish state of affairs could compel the Pats to consider trading him.

I don't believe it will come to this. I think the Krafts want Brady to stay with the team for the foreseeable future, and my sense is that he'll put aside his desire to play near both of his sons and embrace a return to the organization.

Yet I can't tell you this with any degree of certainty, and Brady and Kraft can't, either, which is not an insignificant byproduct of a shifty NFL labor situation.

This much, however, is clear: Until the two sides get together and enter into serious negotiations, the distance will persist, whether Brady is in Boston, L.A. or somewhere in between.


Concerning Taylor Mays(notes) and his desire to make the rest of the league "pay" for overlooking him in the draft's first round: the same thing happened to Thurman Thomas and he used that as motivation for his entire career. He never gave it a rest even after he had "made it." Taylor Mays now has a new fan in Guatemala and I'm hoping that he gives the rest of the league the Thurmanator treatment. Can't wait for that first game against USC north!

Andy Smith
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

In fairness, I think about 80 percent of players I've interviewed who were picked lower than, say, fifth overall have been fueled by a desire to prove they were wronged on draft day. Come to think of it, that may be the best thing about the draft. And the true crazies, like Jerry Rice(notes) or Brett Favre(notes) or a lot of other all-time greats I've encountered, find ways to trick themselves into feeling slighted, even when all evidence suggests they are universally revered. I'll never forget the day Rice showed up for 49ers training camp in the early '90s and told a large group of reporters, "Everyone is saying that I'm slipping, and my mission is to prove them wrong. People are saying Michael Irvin is now the best receiver in football, or Sterling Sharpe, or Andre Rison … " I interrupted, "Jerry, NO ONE is saying that." He just glared and finished his thought.

In your "Lies, Lies, Lies" section, you said "1. Major conclusions must be drawn after each game of every NBA playoff series, even if said conclusions are quickly contradicted by the same source." Might I be correct with the inference that this was in reference to Mr. Wojnarowski's columns? If so, I drew the same conclusion. Anyway, how do you rate Chris Johnson's chances of getting a big payday this offseason, with three years left on his rookie contract? Slim and none, I'd think. I'd give the same chances to him sitting out the season if he doesn't.

Wade K.
Goffstown, N.H.

First of all – no, that was not a slap at Woj. For one thing, I love Woj dearly, and if I had an issue with him, I'd call or text him directly. Secondly, and more important, have you noticed that Woj is, in fact, The Man? I mean, he's Kobe Bryant in a world of Kwame Browns, and now that the playoffs are here, he's routinely throwing down on the competition like Shawn Kemp over Alton Lister. As for Johnson, I direct you to last week's column on the 30 percent rule in the hope that he and the Titans can come up with the type of short-term, "Band-Aid" solution I proposed for LaMarr Woodley(notes) and the Steelers. If not, I don't believe he'll sit out the season – but remember, it's just business, and neither side is inherently right or wrong.

Mike … Seriously hoped this week's lyrics would have been a tribute to Ronnie James … Well, as he said (sang?) … when you listen to fools … On another note … are you going to cover the World Cup? I would really love to read your stuff on this massive event. You are one of few sports journalists in the U.S. who could (aside from Mr. Rogers … but he's from blighty so doesn't really count).

Jeff Chew
Dublin, Ireland

I'll be watching as many minutes of the World Cup as I can while resting my middle-aged bones for football (of the oblong variety) season – and trusting Mr. Rogers to give us that lovely jubbly coverage only he can provide.

Duuuude. Silver, what is up with Anthony M. and his tirade? "Dude, you're a piece of [expletive]! You're nothing but an opportunist who exploited this Jeff Ireland/Dez Bryant(notes) non-story for all its worth. Good luck with making a name for yourself – hope your 'Exposing' of Jeff Ireland wins you that Pulitzer you've always dreamed of (good luck when you work for frickin' Yahoo Sports). Even if you do get a real job with a real media outlet, you'll always be a piece of [expletive] in one reader's eyes. Have a nice day." First of all last I checked you made a name for yourself long ago … Secondly, a good journalist is an opportunist! Thirdly, your story was picked up and proliferated on just about every radio talk TV show in the country and talked about for days! That was great journalism and a great story to take the focus of the usual draft bs, etc. I think it truly brought to light some of the arrogance and "treat 'em like meat" aspect the NFL uses when evaluating players and don't forget they are regular people just like all of us. Loved it man

Derek Greco
Edwards, Colo.

And fourth, that's MISTER piece of (expletive) to you, Anthony M.

This is probably more of a comment … :) I am a true Bills fan, and share the "cheerful" exterior of Lynch. It is not a show. He is like this. He can't be real bad. I will never believe it … He has made some bad decisions, but most are based in what outsiders would call "American" society problems. I would hate to lose him, but would wish him the best if he had to go. And thanks for a great column "Mr. Silver," I love both it and the "Web-show" or what you call it. You and "Mr. 0- 16" (Tiki) are very fun to watch. Best wishes Flemming Munk, Denmark (it's in Scandinavia, the Home country of Morten Andersen(notes) (ex NFL), Franz Nielsen (NHL), Peter Regin (NHL), H.C. Andersen and Queen Margereth the 2nd)

Flemming Munk
Vejle, Denmark

Also, it's the country of The Little Mermaid, Viggo Mortensen and Brigitte Nielsen. And, of course, Flemming Munk, who is truly a great Dane.

Marshawn Lynch(notes) is full of "you-know-what." If he's so intent on making amends with fans in Buffalo, why is he the only player (other than Aaron Schoebel who is expected to retire) not at Chan Gailey's first voluntary practice? He's another "me first" player. Why can't he have dogs? Because the condo he lives in prohibits pit bulls. There would be no issue if he had two smaller dogs. Why was he pulled over for having his music too loud when leaving the stadium? Because Orchard Park (where the stadium is) has a noise ordinance for how loud car sterios are allowed to be played. As far as I'm concerned, the Bills can just cut him and take their losses. There will always be teams out there who will sign players based on their talent and not on their character. He's another selfish player who is always going to make his issues someone else's fault. I think the next time he admits a mistake will be his first.

Rob Conti

I understand your frustration with some of Lynch's legal entanglements, but in fairness he did take the blame for them in the very column you cited, saying, "I did some things that got me in trouble, and I don't fault anyone but myself." As far as the noise ordinance in Orchard Park, if it in fact exists, that might be the only NFL stadium at which peace and quiet are encouraged on Sundays. Then again, there hasn't been all that much to cheer about over the past decade or so.

I thoroughly enjoy your columns every Tuesday and frequently use some of your retorts, in my high school classes, to show students they can make an agitator look foolish without cussing or threatening violence. Thanks.

Hawalli, Kuwait

That's outstanding (and, perhaps, a bit scary). The next time Anthony M. writes in to rip me, remind me to tell him that I'm making a name for myself in the Middle East.