Money should not be the reason Tom Brady doesn't feel the love in New England

Tom Brady photo courtesy of USA Today.

Ron Borges

As “The Race for Tom Brady’’ moves on, one myth persists. It is so far from reality it is astounding, but it has driven a false narrative about his relationship with the Patriots for so long that it is still coloring what might be going on between him and Patriots’ management today.

It is the myth of Mother Teresa.

If you believe the narrative, Tom Brady has been the NFL’s king of self-sacrifice. Like Mother Teresa, he has toiled for decades to save one franchise from the evils of the world while subsisting on the economic margins of life.

He has, the myth goes, sacrificed the best years of his career for chump change to play for the Patriots, winning six Super Bowls and taking them to nine in 20 years of hard labor for which he has been poorly compensated.

He has, the myth continues, repeatedly taken one for the team and thus been underpaid. Now wants his day of reckoning -- i.e., a final big payday to make up for it -- and if he doesn’t get it he will walk, the myth goes.

Well the truth is, Brady and the Patriots may end their 20-year marriage during this year’s free agency period, but it shouldn’t be over a sense of having been poorly compensated. Here’s why: the myth that he has been underpaid all these years is simply not true: It has always been nonsense.

Unlike the passing statistics of today’s top quarterbacks, the financial numbers tell the real story.

At the moment, the four highest-paid quarterbacks of all-time in terms of gross career cash earnings are the Manning boys (Eli and Peyton, in that order) and then Drew Brees. Who is next? Tom Brady.

As of this moment, Eli Manning has earned $252.3 million from the New York Giants in 16 years as their quarterback. His brother, Peyton, is next with $248.7 million in career earnings in his 18 NFL seasons in Indianapolis and Denver. Brees comes in third with $244.7 million. And who sits just $9.5 million behind Brees in career earnings?

That would be the far-from-underpaid Brady at $235.2 million.

One can argue that if he had opted to force his way into free agency sooner than this offseason he might have made more, but that ignores the most critical fact in this matter. The Mannings were the draft’s overall No. 1 picks when they came into the NFL in 1998 (Peyton) and 2004 (Eli). Brees was a second-round selection 19 years ago, the 32nd player taken that year when San Diego drafted him.

Brady? He was a lowly sixth-round choice in 2000, the 199th player selected in the 2000 draft. That meant he had no leverage and thus signed a contract for the rookie minimum of $193.000, earning a total rookie salary, with bonus, that year of $231,500.

By comparison, Peyton Manning was paid $12.744 million his rookie year. Eli was paid $4.744 million and Brees $2.165 million. So Brady started $10.4 million behind Peyton Manning after one season and today is $13.5 million behind, a near dead heat after the first year.

Brady will add to that this year. Manning will not.

Eli Manning was paid $4.774 million his first year, $4.5 million more than Brady. At the moment he’s earned roughly $17 million more in his career, but Brady will add to that in 2020. Manning will not.

As for Brees, he earned $2.165 million his rookie year, $1.93 million more than Brady. It is likely Brady will pass him this offseason in total career cash earnings.

Now let’s take a look at the first four years of their deals. Brady earned $13.5 million over his first four seasons after signing contract extension restructures for the 2002 and 2003 seasons that included over $12 million in various bonuses, including an option of $6 million in 2003. Did that catch him up after four years with the others? Not hardly.

Over the first TWO years of Peyton Manning’s contract he was paid $14.1 million. Over the first four it was $29.6 million, giving him $16 million more than Brady. Eli was paid $36.3 million over his first four seasons, giving Brady a $22.8-million shortfall after four years.

Obviously, rookie minimum contracts are hard to overcome, regardless of your future on-field success.

As for Brees, after four seasons he had been paid only $5 million, meaning Brady had by then earned roughly $8.5 million more. But Brees got a $8-million salary in 2005 and then jumped in free agency to the Saints. There he was paid $22 million in 2006, meaning he earned $4 million more than Brady in those two years before cashing in down the road in New Orleans slightly better than Brady did for refusing to call the movers.

What these numbers tell us should be obvious. The earnings difference between Brady and the three quarterbacks above him is not a result of his being grossly underpaid over his career or his being the shoulder-padded version of Mother Teresa. Rather, it is a result of the shortfall Brady suffered because of the minimum contract he initially signed.

In 2000, the minimum rookie salary was $193,000, exactly what he was paid. In the fifth year it would have been $535,000 under the CBA at that time. Thankfully for Brady, restructurings changed that for him. But making up that early difference is neigh impossible for a player taken so late in the draft.

Brady seems sure to pass Brees in career earnings this offseason now that Brees has announced he will stay with the Saints and not enter the free agent market (thus likely losing significant negotiating leverage) while Brady wants to listen to what might be out there for a 43-year-old quarterback with the best ring collection of the Super Bowl era.

One can argue that Brady has played several more years than the others, so on an overall yearly basis the gap is slightly wider. But, again, that is a result of the paltry sums he was paid his first two seasons ($603,600). Even in his third year the figure was only $3.87 million. By comparison, Eli Manning earned $9 million his third year and Peyton $11 million.

Try making up that difference.

The point is this: Tom Brady might have been able to extract a few more million from the Patriots over the years had he let his contracts run out and forced them to franchise him or let him walk. But it should also be pointed out that in 2014 he was the highest-paid quarterback in football at $19 million and last year his $23 million value was the same as Brees’ and higher than Eli Manning’s.

Thus, several times in his career he caught and/or passed all the other top-paid quarterbacks in terms of yearly income despite having started millions behind them.

Tom Brady may have good reasons for leaving New England, including the “love gap’’ from team management his wife Giselle has hinted at several times. But financially he can’t argue he’s been victimized by the Patriots’ general penurious reputation.

Despite where Brady started 20 years ago, only the Mannings will have earned more money during their careers by this fall -- unless the Saints do something stupid (always a possibility) between now and when “The Race to Sign Tom Brady “ends.


NFL Stories