The act is leadership regardless of circumstance.
So yes, Tom Brady is a man wealthy beyond all reasonable measure, with a wife who is worth even more. And, yes, he could retire tomorrow to a Brazilian beach with Gisele Bundchen and never need another dollar in his life. Last year, Forbes Magazine reported that they were the world's second-highest paid celebrity couple behind Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z. And while such things are never fully accurate, the Forbes estimate that Brady and Gisele together made $72 million suggests he is a very rich man indeed.
But in a world where worth is measured by the number of commas and zeros on a paycheck, the fact Brady is taking less money to help the New England Patriots continue to win is going to matter in a locker room come December or January when the savings turn into victories.
SI.com is reporting that Brady has agreed to a three-year contract extension that will only pay him $27 million. To most of us, this is a figure so high we can barely fathom it on our bank statements. But for a quarterback who is among the three best in the NFL – a perennial MVP finalist – the number is shockingly low. Even in his mid-30s, with an end to his football life in sight, the market says he should get something closer to $60 million for those final three years.
The website's report says this is to bring the Patriots salary-cap relief, giving the team's most essential player cap figures between $13 million and $15 million. Given the cap is expected to be slightly more than $120 million this year and might not rise much over the next few seasons, Brady has not only given the Patriots room to sign free agents this year, he won't burden the team with back-loaded cap figures in coming seasons. In other words, he has not only made New England competitive again in 2013, he has left the possibility it can be good in 2017 as well.
This means the Patriots cannot only re-sign his favorite target, Wes Welker (if they wish), but they can be active in a free-agent market that is deep in cornerbacks and pass rushers. And if there is anything the Patriots desperately need it is cornerbacks and pass rushers.
But the value is bigger than just this spring. The reach of Brady's decision extends in coming offseasons when the cap doesn't move. In the past, NFL general managers didn't worry much about coming salary caps. The league kept negotiating bigger and bigger television deals, pouring more and more money into the salary pool.
However, the league's general managers don't anticipate another swell of money coming anytime soon. Their owners have warned them that the television networks may have reached the limit of what they can spend on the NFL. The pool of cash that kept caps flush over the last two decades is not endless. The flow is no longer a gush, but more of a trickle. Maybe something will change, the owners have told their general managers, but they shouldn't expect it to happen.
The NFL people have a name for this. They say we are heading into an era of a "flat cap." Nonetheless, teams still have to pay their best players. For instance, if the Baltimore Ravens wish to sign their Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco, it will probably cost them roughly $20 million a year for six or seven years. This means if Flacco stays, someone good will have to go. It will be tougher for the champions to keep elite talent on the roster.
Ultimately, Brady really didn't have a choice. He could have held up the Patriots for more money. He probably could have gotten it. As the most essential quarterback in the league, he would have deserved it. But in doing so, he would be fingered as the impediment to New England's winning in the future. Players, respectful of a career that has won three Super Bowls and nearly two others, would lose faith. They would roll eyes and make suggestive comments about Gisele. They would wonder why a quarterback who has earned more than $100 million with a wife who has made far more than that really needs an extra $10 million.
As one former Brady teammate texted Monday when asked about the meaning of the quarterback's below-market extension:
"Means he has a rich wife."
In the end, Brady was pinned in a corner. He could be selfless – at least as selfless as a man still making $9 million a year can be – or be the jerk who just had to make every last dollar regardless of what it does to a roster.
As always, Brady chose leadership. He chose to do what was right for the Patriots.
So yes, he is a man of great means, with a wife who is wealthier than him. Advertisers will want him long after his career is done. He has a post-playing life in television if he desires. Being Tom Brady will make him plenty of money. And should New England capture one more Super Bowl, being Tom Brady who took a smaller salary to help the team win will make him even more marketable.
What choice did he have?
Only the right one. It made perfect sense to take it.
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