As Tom Brady contemplates his future in the NFL, the deadline for his potential return to the Patriots looms on the horizon. On the first day of the NFL year, and the remaining two years on his contract voids something of a poison-pill is triggered for New England.
The NFL is waiting with bated breath to see what the 6-time Super Bowl winner will do in the twilight of his career. While it’s largely expected that he will return for at least two more years, the destination he will choose has been hotly debated over the last few weeks.
Tom Brady is the quarterback they all want
While Brady is more of a traditional quarterback, ill-fitting with the modern mobile NFL quarterback, his skills are still in high demand around the league. His ability to win, above all else, is a skill that is hard to replace.
The Patriots in 2019 had very little genuine threat on the offensive side of the ball. Former Flacons 3rd-stringer Mo Sanu became their number two weapon through the air when he was acquired via trade mid-season. Julian Edelman is their top receiver but averages just 11.2 yards per reception.
On the ground, James White and Sony Michel represent the key threats, but it is hard to spread a defense out when you have no genuine down the field threats.
Despite that Brady took the Patriots to the playoffs once again with a 12-4 record, and that is why he still has great value this off-season. Sure his arm is clearly losing some velocity and some distance, but he hasn’t dropped off a cliff as Peyton Manning did.
Barring a major injury, it is hard to see that kind of decline for Brady in the next season or two. So a slow steady decline is most likely, and with his high football IQ, that is what teams are banking on.
Brady isn’t all about the money
Tom Brady has never maxed-out his contracts, having always preferred to have talent around him that increases his chances to win. And in some ways that is where the Patriots now fall down.
Unless they can boost the talent in the receiving corps, Brady probably doesn’t see that team challenging the Chiefs or Ravens for a title any time soon. They still have arguably the best coach in the history of the game which will be a major selling point.
Another factor is that Brady probably doesn’t want to uproot his entire training camp and system and move it to another location for what will likely be the last two or three years of his career.
However, all of these if’s and but’s have one major deadline that is fast approaching. The start of the league year on March 18th.
On the first day of the league year, Tom Brady’s contract will void and leave the Patriots with $13.5m in dead cap for the 2020 season. Whilst this isn’t a deal-breaker per se, if Brady were to sign a $30m contract after that point, he would count a staggering $44m against the cap this season.
For a team that would need to add players to the offense that would be a huge restriction. Rumours of a Stefon Diggs trade that would add $10.9m in salary and free agent tight-end Austin Hooper would add another $9.9m(ish) to the cap would then be much harder to work with.
Obviously there are ways around this with restructuring contracts and releasing some players. But the back-office dealings would need to enter high-gear for the Patriots to put a product on the field capable of challenging for a title.
Given that, the optimal strategy for the Patriots is to sign Tom Brady before the league year starts so that the dead cap money is spread over the next two years. But will Brady sign that deal without seeing who the Patriots will add in free agency? That is the big question.
While there are numerous possible landing spots for Brady that probably have better offensive rosters; Chargers, Cowboys, and maybe even the Raiders, it may end up being this dead-cap money that prevents his return to the New England Patriots.
If the Patriots can’t get this deal over the line before March 18th, this poison pill may be one thing they can’t swallow.