Commentary

For Tom Brady, less is more

His team-friendly contract backs up what he's always said: It's about winning

Updated: February 26, 2013, 8:48 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made an emphatic statement Monday in agreeing to a three-year contract extension through 2017.

Some players say it isn't about the money when it really is about the money. With Brady, it isn't about the money.

Few, if any, can argue that based on this unprecedented deal.

This is a case in which Brady sacrificed his leverage and took significantly less money -- a $27 million extension over three years -- than he potentially could have later commanded because he wants to finish his career with the best chance to win Super Bowl championships. Inking the deal, which is about half of what star quarterbacks earn on an average-per-year basis, spreads his salary-cap charges over five seasons, which lowers them and gives the Patriots flexibility to surround him with better players at a time when the NFL salary cap isn't rising.

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Brady is 35, and opportunities for a fourth Super Bowl ring, and possibly more, are dwindling. Super Bowl losses in the 2007 and 2011 seasons have stung him deeply.

He just wants to win, and he's willing to give up leverage and dollars to do so.

So in a sense, what Brady is saying is that while Robert Kraft is owner, Jonathan Kraft is president and Bill Belichick is coach, he views himself on their level. The Patriots are his team, too. He is putting his trust in management to spend the money he could be making the right way, a trust that has grown over time since he arrived in 2000. How many players do that?

Brady won't have to scrape for pennies, and there is something about lauding him for taking just an additional $27 million that can come across as unwarranted praise. Still, in today's big-business, me-first sports culture, it's refreshing and quite rare to see it actually happen. The Patriots are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and Brady -- who always has been a bit different from other stars at his level in that he never hired a publicist or marketing agent -- just gave them the power tools to construct a team capable of delivering the franchise's first Super Bowl championship since 2004.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Stephen J. Cohen/WireImageBrady's move could pave the way for a new Patriots deal for his good friend Wes Welker -- shown here with Brady last May at the Kentucky Derby.

Brady obviously likes living in Boston at this time and playing for Belichick -- the only head coach he has played under in the NFL -- and he already has made plenty of money in his first 13 seasons. If he decides a financial boost is needed, there is no shortage of endorsements waiting for him, many of which he annually turns down.

There are other layers to consider as well, such as the trickle-down effect on others.

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?

Then there's one of Brady's best pals, receiver Wes Welker. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 12, and how can he command a top-of-the-line market deal when the team's best player and unquestioned leader didn't do the same? Welker made $9.5 million last season as the team's franchise player. Brady's extension averages $9 million per season. It's hard to imagine any new deal for Welker coming in higher than Brady's.

Maybe Welker will accept this and decide that finishing out his career with a future Hall of Fame quarterback is ultimately what's most important to him. Or maybe it will lead to his departure. Our guess is the first option, with Welker still getting a solid deal with the Patriots to further secure his financial future.

In addition to Welker, the Patriots have other key players such as cornerback Aqib Talib and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer scheduled for free agency. While it once seemed unlikely the Patriots could keep Welker, Talib and Vollmer, now it's not so far-fetched. The Patriots have flexibility to extend a bit more than they previously could have.

Furthermore, at a time when other clubs are cutting quality players to get themselves under a salary cap that isn't rising and isn't expected to do so in 2014, either, the Patriots now are in better position to compete with other clubs for those players on the open market.

The Patriots, annually Super Bowl contenders but who have fallen agonizingly short in recent years, owe Brady a big thank-you for that.

Brady summed it all up in two words Monday night on his Facebook page: "Just Win."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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