On Thursday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport appeared on WEEI radio to talk about arguably the league’s biggest story of the offseason: the future of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career when the new league year begins on March 18. That is, of course, unless the future Hall of Famer sign a new contract with the Patriots before 4:00 pm that day.
Rapoport does not think that this will happen, however, and openly wondered why Brady would agree to re-sign before the start of free agency. On the surface, this line of thought certainly makes sense: if he wants to explore his market and maximize his value, entering free agency certainly is the best course of action. That being said, there is incentive for the 42-year-old to actually return to the Patriots before entering the open market.
Let’s start by looking at the argument at the center of this, Brady’s market. While he could get a clearer picture of it after March 18, he and his camp will likely already know how he is valued around the league at that point. After all, the NFL introduced the so-called legal tampering period in 2016, to crack down on teams and agents getting into contact even before they were officially allowed to do so at the start of free agency.
During this two-day window, teams and players are allowed to negotiate deals and agree to contracts in principle — they can still only officially sign them once free agency has begun — which means that they will also get a feel for how the market will develop. But even before the legal tampering period opens there will be plenty of unofficial contact between clubs and the representatives of future free agents. Brady will know his market value.
This, in turn, changes the whole “Why would Brady even re-sign before free agency opens?” argument. Unless the veteran quarterback and his agent, Don Yee, are waiting for other offers to come along after the legal tampering window, they should have a clear picture of what the options are and how to proceed. If the Patriots are still the best option available re-signing with them before March 18 should become a no-brainer.
This is especially true when looking at Brady’s contract. While he is scheduled to become a free agent, his deal actually runs for two more seasons that will void on the first day of the 2020 league year (which is March 18). If that void is triggered by him not having signed a new deal at that point, his remaining signing bonus proration of $13.5 million would hit New England’s books and therefore drastically change the team’s flexibility in free agency.
In case Brady does re-sign with the team before March 18, however, the proration remains split out over those two dummy years previously added to his deal: $6.75 million would hit the books in 2020, with the other half only hitting the cap in 2021. The difference between those two scenarios is significant considering that New England’s cap space according to PatsCap’s Miguel Benzan would jump from an estimated $29.22 million to $35.97 million.
While a large part of this sum would naturally be redirected to Brady, the additional $6.75 million gained by re-signing him before the start of free agency would still give the Patriots more financial wiggle room and thus options to do what the quarterback apparently wants them to do: upgrade the weapons around him. That might be the single biggest incentive for the six-time world champion to re-sign in New England sooner rather than later.
Brady going that route and saving the Patriots money certainly has precedent. After all, he has taken below-market value deals in the past to give the club more options to spend its money. Just think of it this way: while the cap has increased steadily over the last few years, Brady has never required a share higher than the 13.6% he had in 2006. Since the current collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011, he accounted for an overage of just 10.1% of New England’s cap.
A different question can therefore be posted: Why would he stray off course this time around, when his track record clearly shows a willingness to partially sacrifice personal earning for the greater good of the team (one he wants to see improved in the first place)? While a lot of factors are at play, not all of them financial in nature, Brady seems to have considerable incentive to eventually re-sign with the Patriots before the start of free agency.