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Is Tom Brady’s contract the NFL’s biggest bargain?

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It may not be the answer Patriots fans want to hear, but everyone needs to hear it.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's unlikely there was an individual more eager to learn the final outcome of Derek Carr's contract negotiations than Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford -- aside from his agent, perhaps.

Thursday's news of Carr's five-year, $125 million extension has raised the bar set by Andrew Luck in 51 weeks ago. The deal is presumably the first domino to fall in an impending sequence of quarterback contract extensions on the horizon that will impact the futures of some prominent NFL franchises.

Carr's $25 million average per year (APY) has given Matthew Stafford's agent $114.02 million in his eight years in the league since being drafted, is only under contract through 2017. That being said, Lions GM Bob Quinn has publicly commented on the importance of extending the face of their franchise, calling it a “priority”, according to a March 1st story by the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett.

Washington's Kirk Cousins, who by the end of this season will have netted roughly $48 million by simply signing and playing on consecutive franchise tags, certainly will have his ear pointed in the direction of Stafford's negotiations. As will Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who's contract is up following the 2018 season.

The ink on a new Matt Ryan contract extension certainly won’t have long to dry before negotiations will begin between two of the NFC's perennial playoff teams and their quarterbacks: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Their deals run through 2019, and the leverage their agent’s will have at that point will have been compounded and intensified with each deal struck before them.

However, there is another quarterback who is scheduled to the free agent market following the end of the 2019 season. As things stand today, this player’s contract is comfortably the league’s most economical and team-friendly deal.


With rumors of Derek Carr’s massive extension emerging earlier in the week, The Ringer’s Kevin Clark shared his thoughts on the league’s most valuable contract.

On the surface, it’s a safe statement. The general sentiment around the NFL has long been that Tom Brady has sacrificed millions in annual revenue to allow a stronger, more formidable team to be built around him. He’s the most successful quarterback in the history of football, yet the two-year, $41 million extension he signed last March ranks (in APY) 14th in the NFL among quarterbacks.

Could Brady have held the Patriots over the coals for an extra few million dollars each year if he so desired? Absolutely. But the extent to which he has financially sacrificed for the sake of his teammates is often exaggerated, as he’s earned roughly $200 million in his career.

With five Super Bowl rings, a plethora of league records, and a seemingly age-defying skill set, Brady’s contract is obviously an incredible value — and he is scheduled to join Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson on the 2019 unrestricted free agent market.

Yet, Tom Brady is not the aforementioned player one whose current contract is the league’s most economical and team-friendly. The player with the league’s most valuable contract is Cowboy’s second-year quarterback Dak Prescott.

Yes. Dak Prescott’s contract is more valuable than Tom Brady’s.

It’s not really close.

After being taken with in the fourth round (135th overall) of last year’s draft, Dak stormed onto the scene follow Tony Romo’s preseason injury and preceded to take the NFC East division by storm en route to a 13-3 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The former Mississippi State Bulldog took home the 2016 AP Rookie of the Year Award and was voted to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot. The departure of Tony Romo this offseason signaled what everyone already knew — Dak Prescott has become the new franchise quarterback in Dallas.

However, thanks to the NFL and NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement, Dak’s 2017 cap figure stands at a paltry $635,848. In 2018 it will rise to $725,848. In 2019, the first year Prescott will be allowed to negotiate an extension with the Cowboys, he will presumably earn the Proven Performance Escalator, which should boost his cap figure to $2,172,506 — assuming a standard 7.5% annual increase in restricted free agent tenders.

As the quarterback dominoes continue to fall over the next two seasons in the wake of Carr’s extension, Prescott will earn 1,361,696 combined before he’s even allowed to sit down at the bargaining table.

Unsurprisingly, there is an obstinate contingent who can’t endure the fact that the English language allows the construction of a sentence that contains the name of another team's quarterback, the phrase “more valuable”, and Tom Brady -- in that order. For some in this group, it's simply an inability to acknowledge the existence of other quarterback talent around the NFL. Some of these devoted Brady loyalists are so accustomed to defending his historical standing through developments like Deflategate and the age-old Brady-Manning debate, that they need his contract to be best bargain in the game -- it’s integral to their narrative that he is still the underdog -- still "Pick 199". It’s irrational sports fanaticism at its finest.

These Prescott pessimists are blinded to the context of the debate. The issue at hand is not the value of the player to his team — it’s the value of the player’s contract to his team.

The monetary value of a player’s contract depends on the player’s position, age, and the compensation of the other players at his position in the league performing at or around the same level he is.

It’s important to note that although the player’s on-field performance and skill set is a crucial component, playoff wins and Super Bowl titles were not mentioned in that list of criteria. While postseason prowess certainly bolsters a player’s case for a top-tier contract, ultimately the deal’s value is not dependent on it. If that were the case, Derek Carr wouldn’t be the new highest paid player in football, and Matthew Stafford wouldn’t have amassed over $110 million in eight seasons with zero playoff victories.

The scarcity of starting-caliber NFL quarterbacks is no secret — let alone ones playing at a Pro Bowl-level. It’s also no surprise that NFL teams operate under the premise that they must have a franchise quarterback to win a Super Bowl. They aren’t wrong.

When a team get their hands on a quarterback that they feel gives them a chance to win a title, they are practically forced to lock them up. Teams and fan bases have a tangible fear that, should they let a current asset get away, they will then dedicate an unknown amount of seasons to a continuous search for their next franchise quarterback.

With immediate results demanded from today’s coaches and general managers, there is no time for current regimes to haggle over a few million making a quarterback with no proven postseason success a $20-25 million per year player. This is why quarterbacks like Carr, Luck, and Stafford, to name only a few, are paid as if they already possess multiple championship rings.


So just how big is the contractual value gap between Dak and Tom’s deals? Here are some more figures:

  • Tom Brady accounts for 8.36% of the Patriots 2017 adjusted salary cap. Dak Prescott accounts for 0.37% of the Cowboy’s cap.
  • The APY of the five quarterbacks not named Prescott who were voted to the 2016 Pro Bowl on the original ballot: $22,020,000. Dak’s APY: $680,848
  • According to footballoutsiders.com, Prescott ranked fourth in DVOA last season. Matt Ryan, who topped the ranking, was the only original ballot Pro Bowler ahead of him.
  • The average APY of the other nine quarterbacks in the DVOA top ten: $22,283,807

For those still backing the value of Brady's deal, let's concede for a moment that Brady, who turns 40 in about six weeks, should be the league’s highest paid player. Topping Derek Carr would require an APY increase of just over $4.5 million per year. To match the average APY of Dak Prescott's 2016 Pro Bowl peers would require an increase of $21,339,152 per year.

That means that there is a $16.8 million discrepancy in the required amount of annual money to match each player’s compensation with his individual level of play — keeping in mind the generous concession that a 40-year-old quarterback should be the league’s highest paid player.

For some added context on just how staggering that $16.8 million gap is, here’s a list of current Patriots positional groups and their collective 2017 cap figures:

  • $15,674,780 - Wide receivers: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Malcolm Mitchell.
  • $11,770,522 - Backfield: Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, and James Develin.
  • $17,314,406 - The entire projected starting offensive line.
  • $13,709,833 - All six tight ends currently on the 90-man roster.
  • $15,286,947 - Edges and interior defensive lineman: Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Wise, and Ealy - Branch, Guy, Brown, and Valentine.
  • $15,457,562 - Six cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, and Jonathan Jones.

Trusted NFL salary cap and player contract guru Miguel Benzan of patscap.com agrees that Dak’s contract is the NFL’s biggest bargain. On Thursday he provided perhaps the perfect summation of the value gap between the two contracts.

“Brady’s cap number is more than twenty times Dak’s — but Brady is not twenty times better than Dak.”

Perhaps the most important contract value gap-widening number that has yet to be cited? 24. That is how old Dak Prescott will be next month.

In fact, just 22 months after the new face of the Cowboys was born in 1993, a young Northern Californian catcher from Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo,CA was drafted in the 18th round by the Montreal Expos.

A few months later, in Ann Arbor,MI, Tom Brady began his long, improbable uphill climb to the top of football.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @ BPhillips_PP