Like most bloggers, I enjoy reading Bill Simmons' columns on ESPN's Page 2. Being a Patriots fan, I find myself especially drawn to his columns during football season since we both root for the same team. While I generally sympathize with Bill's sentiments regarding the Pats, I think his latest article on holdouts was just dead wrong.
And now, I feel bad for Tom Brady, which means I feel bad for a handsome guy with two healthy kids, three Super Bowl rings, $100 million in the bank and a wealthy supermodel for a wife. Funny. He's finishing a six-year, $60 million deal ($26.5 million guaranteed) signed in 2005, one year after Peyton Manning's colossal seven-year, $99 million deal. At the time, we hailed Brady for leaving money on the table and needled Manning for selfishly grabbing as much cash as he could. And for the next five years, the franchise that spent enough to keep its core around its expensive franchise quarterback was ... wait a second ... Indianapolis???
Yup. The Colts consistently paid market value for their own players in a concerted effort to maintain continuity and do right by Manning, sometimes overpaying to protect that Colts DNA. (Of their big-ticket guys, only Edgerrin James was pushed out the door.) By contrast, the value-conscious Patriots lost too much of their DNA; guys like Adam Vinatieri, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Asante Samuel, Tully Banta-Cain and Willie McGinest were always deemed expendable. In some cases, they were. But how much winning DNA can you lose before you're not the same team anymore?
Really Bill? Because by my count, since 2005, the Colts have been to two Super Bowls. The Patriots have been to one. Not a tremendous difference, especially considering that in 2006, the Patriots were up 21-3 in the first quarter to the Colts in the AFC Championship game before they epically collapsed. Also, the Patriots were all but set up for a return trip to the Super Bowl in 2008 until Tom Brady blew out his ACL. There was also that 16-0 season in 2007. If you want to look at the past five years, yes, the Colts get the nod, but it's not a land slide.
Bill, are you really telling me that you wanted the Pats to shell out for Benedict Arnold Vinatieri way past his prime? How many games have the Patriots lost due to a botched kick the last five seasons? I'm having a hard time coming up with one. Deion Branch has been a huge disappointment in Seattle. A 2011 1st Rounder from Oakland for Richard Seymour who was going to become a malcontent and demand a fat contract? Yes, please. Is this Asante Samuel the same player who let the Super Bowl winning interception go right through his hands in '07? Are you talking about the Tully Banta-Cain who flamed out with the Niners before finally hitting his stride back with us last season? I'll give you Daniel Graham and Willie McGinnest, but neither of those guys were worth the money they received elsewhere, and I'm as big of a Willie Mac fan as they come.
Branch's departure was a perfect example: A beloved locker room guy and Brady's favorite target, Branch wanted to be paid like a No. 1 receiver (which he wasn't) and not an elite possession receiver (which he was). His leverage: Without him, the Patriots were screwed heading into the 2006 season. The Patriots shrugged and dealt him for a future No. 1; Branch got paid by Seattle; and the Patriots lost the AFC title game because they didn't have a single receiver who could get open on the biggest third-and-4 of the game. They win that title with Branch. I will believe that until the day I die.
Like I said, Branch has been a disaster in Seattle. Why would we have wanted any part of that? Also, if we overpay for Branch in 2006, we definitely don't end up with Moss and Weler in 2007. Maybe we get one or the other, but not both. And the 2006 collapse against the Colts had very little to do with the Patriots not being able to score, (again, note the 21-3 lead) and everything to do with a defense that had been riddled by the flue virus and was sucking wind in the 4th quarter. Maybe Branch makes a difference, but I can point to about 25 other things that would've have cost the Patriots millions of wasted dollars that would have also changed the outcome.
You left money on the table that your team rarely used (only splurging in 2007). You watched them repeatedly roll over high picks so "next year" would be the windfall instead of just cashing them in during your prime. Now you're 33 years old with a surgically repaired knee. You're playing for a paltry $6.5 million during an uncapped season -- repeat: an uncapped season -- during the same year that rookie Sam Bradford just signed for $50 million guaranteed. You thought for sure the Patriots would renegotiate that deal when the time came, and they even promised as much -- the old, "We need to stretch the signing bonus out for cap purposes and add an extra year, but don't worry, when we get there, we'll rip it up" routine -- only they're now pretending to have amnesia. And by the way, you won three Super Bowls and helped sell out their stadium for nine solid years.
How do you feel right now? Well, you're one hit away from being damaged goods. You have an owner who pretends to be lavish (he's far from it) and evolved into one of the league's most powerful figures; with the collective bargaining agreement expiring, he's not screwing things up for other owners by ripping up your deal, giving you a mega-extension and having the players' union say, "See, you guys can't cry poverty, Kraft just gave Brady all that money!" No, he's going to keep doing what he's been doing for months -- pretend he wants to extend you, drag things along, then franchise your dumb ass for $12 million next spring. He's banking on the fact that you're Tom Brady, you're the leader of the team, you've already made more than enough money, you care about winning more than anything else, and you have that Nash-ian side that would never allow you to put yourself above the team. He's playing you, basically.
Trashing Belichick's draft strategy is just asinine. If the Patriots have made the playoffs seven times in the past nine years, their only two misses coming on lost tie-breakers. They've played in four Super Bowls in that span, winning three. They've played in five AFC Championships. And, again, remember that Brady was injured in 2008, so you can pretty much throw that season out the window. It's been an incredible run, better than any other team by a mile. Don't even begin to question Belichick's strategy over the past five years just because the Patriots were a freak play here and there from winning a title or possibly titles.
And Kraft not lavish? The man certainly doesn't hand out stupid over-the-top contracts, which is something he should be praised for. However, Kraft has spent some hefty money on Brady, Moss, and most recently, Vince Wilfork. Brady's also assuredly going to cash in again as well when everything is said and done. Even if he blew out his knee tomorrow, he'd, at worst, get the $12 million franchise tag next year. Not a bad pay day for a year of work.
So you bide your time. Say the right things. Smile at the right times. Deep down, you're seething. And you should be. You got screwed in 2005; you're getting screwed now. You will give this man one more good year. One. That's it. Unless he does the right thing, you're done. That means your Patriots tenure has a definitive expiration date. And maybe it should.
I don't know if Brady feels that way for sure. But he should feel that way ... and that's what scares me. See, athletes and agents are smarter than when I was growing up. Back in '77, Leon Gray and John Hannah screwed up. They never should have caved when they did. But today, after five decades of learning from everyone else's mistakes, athletes might be mastering the art of the holdout (and by proxy, the non-holdout). That means Brett Favre will keep milking that ankle injury. Darrelle Revis will keep playing chicken. And Tom Brady will keep biding his time and pretending everything is all right.
All three will get what they want. Eventually.
Tom Brady signed his current contract. He's being a man and living up to it 100%, and I completely respect him for it. What I don't understand is why Simmons feels that the Patriots owe Brady anything beyond the contract that he signed. They've built a long-term winner around him, and he's cashed in and become a global icon. It's been a mutually beneficial relationship for both. What Simmons is suggesting is that the Patriots are somehow obligated to throw tons of money at Brady because of what he's done in the past. Last time I checked, Brady's compensation for those years of service was the salary he was paid during those years. If Brady gets another contract, it will be compensation for additional future years of service. That's the way it works. Now granted, the fact that Brady has been a top-tier quarterback for the past nine seasons will obviously affect how much he earns, but that's based on the Patriots projecting that he will continue to play at that level for "x" amount of years and setting the value of his contract accordingly. He's still being paid for what they believe he will do in the future. It's not "payback" for something owed to him from the past.
Somehow the agents, the players, and apparently Bill Simmons have a totally skewed view of the concept of compensation. Simmons uses the Jets Darrell Revis as an example in his article.
You know the details by now: Revis signed a $30 million, six-year rookie deal with $11 million guaranteed in 2007; outperformed it for two years; watched Oakland give rival corner Nnamdi Asomugha a three-year, $45.3 million deal ($28.3 million guaranteed) in April 2009; outplayed Asomugha in 2009; then expected the Jets to renegotiate his deal last spring. Nope. Instead of playing for a 2010 cap figure 15 times less than Asomugha, Revis refused to report. And to this point, I agreed with everything he did. Wholeheartedly.
Really? So basically, you're telling me that the Jets signed a player who had never played a down in the NFL and handed him $11 million in guaranteed money, and now they owe him something more even though he's still under that contract? Do you think Revis would have given the Jets back any of that $11 million if he broke his leg during his first game and was out for the season? Or what if he just flat-out couldn't cut it as an NFL player? What if he suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury? Basically, Simmons is saying that the Jets took an $11 million gamble on Darrell Revis, and because it paid off, now they're obligated to tear up the four remaining years on that contract and pay him even more money. It's ludicrous! If Revis felt he was going to be sooooooooo much better than his rookie contract compensated him for, then he should have only signed a one or two year deal. He could have taken less money up front and shouldered the risk of injury or underperformance himself. Had he signed for two years and $4 million guaranteed and was now without a contract, I'd say the Jets should certainly pay him market value. But he didn't. Instead, the Jets are assumed all the risk and now Revis believes he should reap all the benefits.
Believe me, there's few things I want more than for Tom Brady to quarterback the Patriots well into this decade and I'd hate to see him leave for another team. On the flip side, I also don't want to see my team saddled with an huge contract for a guy who just tore his ACL for the second time. It's not a one way street as Simmons is suggesting and he's a fool for siding with the player over his own team, even when that player is Tom Brady. The bottom line is that if Brady ends up elsewhere in 2011, it will be because some team offered him more money or because he wanted to stay on the West Coast. It won't be because the Patriots didn't treat him fairly. They've given him everything he's been owed and then some.