The Patriots Have Two Options: Re-Sign Tom Brady, or Rebuild With Jarrett Stidham
Now that the offseason is here for the New England Patriots, the Tom Brady contract situation now moves to the forefront.
Brady is going into this offseason a free man, seeking a new contract. With rumors of Brady wanting to leave New England swirling, his contract has become a hot-topic and everyone seems to have an opinion on what they think the future holds for the 42-year-old quarterback.
Patriots fans across the board seem to be worried at the possibility that their franchise quarterback of 20 years could be wearing different colors come next fall. However, what fans are not taking into consideration are the finances involved with New England's decision to retain Brady, as opposed to moving on from him.
Those finances were broken down here by Boston Sports Journal's Miguel Benzan on Twitter last week:
A $13.5 million signing bonus is due to Brady, and if he is not signed by the Patriots before 4 p.m. on March 18 (when free agency starts) all that money will count against New England's 2020 cap space. However, if he is signed before that deadline, that signing bonus gets split in half and spread over two years. The Patriots would be able to take that $6.5 million each year and work it into his contract.
However, the main point is that if Brady were to leave, New England would end up having to pay him $13.5 million in 2020 to not play for them. Belichick historically hates paying players to not be on his team, so it would be hard to imagine paying Brady to hit the road and not play for the Patriots next season.
The only way Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio and Belichick let Brady walk is if the team goes into rebuilding mode and turn to their draft pick from last year, Jarrett Stidham. Which, with a less than ideal surrounding cast and New England having one of the oldest rosters in the league, rebuilding makes sense.
Broken down into simple terms: New England will either sign Brady or blow it all up. Let's talk about why:
Question: Why couldn't the Patriots sign another free agent quarterback if Brady leaves?
New England has limited cap space this upcoming season (an estimated $30 million) and a boatload of free agents to re-sign. Signing any quarterback, including Brady, is going to cut into a large chunk of that available spending. And while Brady did not have his best year this year, he still gives the Patriots the best chance to win next year by a mile out of any other available option. All the available free agents are downgrades from Brady and they all might end up being more expensive for New England in the long-run. In other words, based on trends and projections, in all likelihood it would cost either the same amount or more to sign another QB not named Brady, who would very likely produce less wins for New England.
If the Patriots go the Stidham route, his $750,000 cap hit along with the $13.5 million cap hit from Brady would be the smallest they could find a quarterback for. Otherwise, signing Brady or any other quarterback will almost certainly total above $30 million, assuming Brady wants to actually get paid top-tier money, which has been reported. This is also assuming it costs above $16.5 million for the Patriots to sign a veteran, free agent quarterback. It would almost certainly cost above $16.5 million as there were only two non-rookie quarterbacks this season that went into the year as starters that are making under $20 million per year: Miami's Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.
To think New England could win playoff games with a lesser quarterback and key pieces of they 2019 roster gone would be ridiculous, especially after they just lost in the Wild Card with Brady and players like Joe Thuney and Kyle Van Noy (who will likely get paid by another team this offseason). On the other hand, while they may not necessarily have the money to re-sign Brady along with some of the other team's free agents, at least Brady, who knows the system and is still a very high-level quarterback, makes them competitive.
So, while free agent quarterbacks will likely cost around $20 million for next season (totaling around $33.5 million against the cap), the Patriots and Brady could hash out his contract for a number less than $34 million.
A contract for $30 million this season would put Brady right around the top of the league among quarterbacks in 2020. Plus, if that does not satisfy him, New England will be able to offer him even more money in the following years, when they have more cap space and next year's incoming CBA agreement will likely add to that even more.
Question: With free agents off the table, what about trading for a quarterback?
Another scenario that has been mentioned is trading for a quarterback like Matthew Stafford. However, trading for a quarterback would likely be even more expensive than the free agent route, both money-wise and draft-pick wise. Cap space would be even tighter to surround that new quarterback with a solid surrounding cast. It would be hard to imagine that quarterback making the playoffs, which would be a complete waste of resources, just like signing a quarterback.
Question: Why couldn't the Patriots build a great supporting cast around Stidham?
Ideally they could, but why would they? Building around an unproven commodity spells a recipe for disaster. Now, it is worth noting that Stidham impressed behind the scenes this season. So, Stidham may be better than he appeared to the public during the preseason. Yet, on the surface, someone who doesn't attend those December practices everyday could not and would not be expected to trust him to captain the ship to the Super Bowl or through the playoffs.
Stidham has yet to prove himself as a capable starting quarterback in the league, let alone one who can win playoff games. While he may have had some good practices, to trust him and confidently spend money on weapons for him, could very well be a fatal flaw.
Ideally, New England could re-sign Ted Karras, Adam Butler, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater, along with trade for a weapon like Keenan Allen or Odell Beckham Jr., with Stidham as the starting quarterback. But there is no way of telling if it would amount to anything with the unproven QB running the offense. At the end of the day, it could just end up being a waste of resources and it could close the door to an great opportunity to rebuild the roster.
The bottom line
Brady might be the only quarterback who gives the Patriots a chance to make the playoffs or at least make a run in it. He is the only one out of the bunch who has proved he can win with depleted assets, which he could have again next year in New England. The 42-year-old QB reportedly wants more say in personnel decisions for the team, which could also play a part in him re-signing with the Patriots. So if Belichick agrees to let him play a part in who they sign in free agency and possibly even the draft, it could go a long way in retailing the future HOFer.
However, if the Patriots cannot get Brady, they might as well hand Stidham the ball, see what they have, and try to take one of the oldest rosters in the NFL and inject it with youth. Paying a quarterback boatloads of money to clinch a Wild Card spot if lucky does not make a lot of sense in free agency or via a trade.
Brady appears as if he wants to stay in New England, saying last week in an Instagram post that he "has more to prove." Why would he not want to prove whatever he thinks he has to prove in the place that he has spent his whole career in? Why would he voluntarily make things harder on himself by adjusting to new coaching and an entirely different team? If Brady is looking for something new, that is what he would have to overcome. If he wants money after taking hometown discounts, then the Patriots should sit down and meet his demands as it might be around the same cost as signing someone like Dalton or Bridgewater.
Belichick hates nothing more than paying players not to play for his team. Why would he pay the man that gives him the best chance to win, to not be on his team? Especially if he could potentially be even cheaper than other options.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has expressed how much he wants Brady back in the fold for next season. He said in an interview with Peter King last week, "And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”
All sides should mutually want this deal. The Patriots give Brady the best chance to win out of his options and Brady gives the Patriots the best chance to win out of their options.
The smart move for both sides would be for New England to hand Brady the blank check and let him name his salary. Even if Brady writes himself a check totaling just over 30 million dollars for next season (which would put him in the top 5 for next year's earnings among quarterbacks), the Patriots would still be happy with retaining him instead of having to pay around the same dollar amount for a lesser quarterback.