Revealing The Fiction of Self-Sacrifice in Sports

Superstars often are lauded by fans when they give 'hometown discounts' during contract negotiations. But a closer look at the deals reveals the public perception doesn't always match the facts behind the numbers. Case in point: Tom Brady

By
Andrew Brandt
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As superstars Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant near the end of their careers, the teams they've played for—the Patriots and Lakers—have faced difficult decision whether to keep them or turn the page. (Getty Images/2)
As superstars Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant near the end of their careers, the teams they’ve played for—the Patriots and Lakers—have faced the difficult decision of whether to keep them or turn the page. (Getty Images/2)

The two-year extension signed by NBA superstar Kobe Bryant last week brought up a couple important issues in contract negotiations worth discussing as they apply to NFL teams: (1) whether or not to move on from an aging, but still signature player of the franchise; and (2) whether superstar players should take, or have taken, “hometown discounts” to allow for resources to be used on other parts of the roster. Let’s examine.

Moving on

The business of sports can be cold and merciless, yet difficult change is necessary for a franchise to move forward. As with any business, sports teams need to evolve to the next chapter of their organizational history. That can sometimes require parting with a player who has been the face of the franchise for a long period.

There are no more stark examples of this than two from the NFL in recent years: the Packers trading Brett Favre and the Colts releasing Peyton Manning. Other than perhaps Tom Brady (more on him below), there are no two NFL players in this generation more closely associated with their franchises than Favre and Manning. Although the circumstances were different, the Packers and Colts made the uncomfortable decision to move to a new chapter in their leadership, with succession plans—Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck—in place.

Franchise-defining decisions such as these are often prompted by contract decisions. In Manning’s case, an onerous option clause following a season lost to injury forced a Colts’ decision point prior to the free agency/trading period. In another recent separation, star running back Steven Jackson and the Rams negotiated a “contract void” following the 2012 season that allowed a graceful exit for one of the team’s hallmark players. 

Bryant was in his final year of his contract (making more than $30 million) yet the Lakers, unlike the Packers and Colts, chose to hold onto the past rather than to move forward. True, there are no ready-made replacements waiting in the wings for Bryant as there were for Favre and Manning, but an opportunity to let the contract expire and pivot to a different kind of team was declined.

Five Things I Think About This Week

1. I think the volume on the “Chip Kelly’s in over his head” and “Nick Foles cannot be the long-term answer” crowds have been turned down considerably. The Eagles are a dangerous team with an underrated defense.


2. I think the Rams are the fortunate beneficiaries of the forgetful season in Washington, now in possession of what would be the second overall pick in the draft; the same pick, ironically, that begat Griffin in 2012.


3. I think that Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon having extraordinary performances in losses is telling. Football is the ultimate team sport; even that level of wide receiver production cannot override other deficiencies.


4. I think that the cautious treatment of Aaron Rodgers, while frustrating to fans, is expected. Having been in those meetings for years, I know that Packers’ coaches and management will defer to the doctors, even on Rodgers.


5. I think the reason the NFL leaked the potential of truly harsh penalties for Mike Tomlin—and perhaps the Steelers—is that his actions strike at the integrity of the game. The word “integrity” is being discussed a lot in the NFL offices regarding discipline.


—A.B.

These difficult divorces after long marriages can be unpopular not only with fans but even within the coaching staff and locker room. Management must understand and expect the negative emotions while separating, as gracefully as possible, from players who symbolize the team.

Taking less?

There has been much conversation as to whether Bryant should have accepted less than the roughly $24 million in each of the next two years, to allow the Lakers more flexibility in a salary cap system. It was unrealistic, however, to expect Bryant, known as the “Black Mamba” for his ruthless strikes on the court, to be submissive in business. Indeed, he probably felt that going from $30 million to $24 million was more than charitable. 

And Bryant’s stance is the norm, not the exception. Taking less to help the team examples are especially overstated in the NFL, where contract restructures to defer cap charges—simple paper transactions that redistribute, not reduce, earnings—are often wrongly interpreted as player sacrifices. 

One of those narratives since Bryant’s extension has been about Tom Brady. I’ve heard many comments in the past week along the lines of, Well, Tom Brady took less in regard to the Patriots quarterback’s February contract extension. It would be a heartwarming story, except for one small detail: Tom Brady didn’t take less; he took more

Brady reality

Prior to his extension, Brady was scheduled to earn $30 million combined for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Following the extension, Brady was scheduled to earn $33 million for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, with much better payment terms.

Brady did create short-term cap savings for the Patriots, presumably to retain Wes Welker, among others. However, Brady (1) received much better cash flow, including a $30 million signing bonus, on his two-year earnings, (2) gained another “chip” to use at the bargaining table with the Patriots when necessary, and (3) stacked further amounts to his future cap charges, complicating any possible divorce with the team.

Brady is one of dozens of players every year to restructure their contract for immediate cap savings (Ben Roethlisberger has done so with the Steelers in each of the past three seasons). Rarely do players receive any tangible benefits for doing so; Brady received an additional $3 million and better payment terms. 

Hope floats

There still remains the possibility, though, that Brady truly did forfeit actual value in his recent contract. The “out” years of the extension, 2015-2017, are presently written for salaries of $7, $8, and $9 million, preposterously low numbers for a player like Brady. If Brady is still starting for the Patriots and playing for those salaries, he will be a true model of a superstar who took less—far less—to help the team.

However, I have a hard time believing Brady will be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2015 making roughly one-third of what his peers will be making at that time. Rather, I see another renegotiation coming after next season. And if so, I completely will understand and accept Brady’s actions. It is what the vast majority of athletes do: put their interests first and the team’s interests second.

The business of sports goes both ways, with leverage the driving force, as we are now seeing with Monopoly-like numbers in baseball free agency. Both teams and players do what is in their best interests, with the fiction of self-sacrifice often just that.  

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31 comments
GregAtkin
GregAtkin

PK came down quite heavily on the Cowboys' Thursday-Monday schedule break in his column last Monday but no such wrath was heaped on the Seahawks  when they benefited from the same break earlier this season.

I like PK but his biases are annoying. He absolutely despises the Cowboys.

  I've even used samples of his writing to demonstrate newspaper bias in my high school  classes.

craig.w.bryant
craig.w.bryant

This is a terribly written article that provides no actual conclusions and merely discusses two cases (one of which is about 90% conjecture on the author's part) to try to support the conclusions inferred by the title.  Is SI.com really that desperate for content that they are publishing this?

Marima
Marima

So, you're conclusions are based on what you think Tom Brady might do in the future - not what he's done.  How about waiting to see what happens and THEN write the story.

MarkMcClure
MarkMcClure

Brady is the Greatest Of All-Time, there is ZERO argument about that. He knows he will make his massive dollars when he retires.

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Without a doubt, there is a perception out there that “hometown discounts” frequently amount to unilateral concessions made by players for the benefit of their teams.I applaud the effort here to shine some light on this myth.In the business world, there is often—if not always—a “quid” for every “quo.” Of note, Brady’s contract extension did generate a sizable salary-cap space saving—$15MM, if I recall correctly—for New England during a time when the NFL salary cap doesn’t appear to be going up.That, among other things, is what induced the Patriots to pursue Brady’s contract extension.

MarkRoe
MarkRoe

Players should definitely look after themselves first.  Everyone reading this article does the same for themselves.  All players should take the maximum amount of money they can get in the shortest period of time that they can get it in.  A knee can go at anytime but the kids will still need to go to college whether the athlete can perform at peak level or can only get a peak at a locker room because of injury.

F4
F4

not a smart article...

Brady could be making more than what he's making with the Pats.

That fact alone means he's giving the team a home discount. 

Are these writers this stupid or just freaking lazy?

Doh
Doh

Tom Brady caphit - 13.8M

Eli Manning caphit - 20.8M

Matt Stafford caphit - 17.8M

Peyton Manning caphit - 17.5

Drew Brees caphit - 17.4


How is Brady not taking a hometown discount or not putting the team first? Sure he is getting paid but his cap hit is routinely far less than it could have been. Just look at Peyton's numbers year after year as proof to that. Brady's cap hit is comparable to guys like Sanchez, Bradford, Vick, Roethlisberger and Rivers... second tier guys (or lower) while he is elite.


Sure, maybe Tom got more money out of it but the fact is that he is still 4-6M lower than he could rightly demand. How is that being selfish?!

JackofME
JackofME

Don't these people look at the numbers over the life of the contract?  Taking more upfront means I get to invest the money for the future years where I take less.  Why do reporters treat a signing bonus as earned in the first year vs over the life of the contract?  Isn't this logic how car salesman screw their customers?

TerryEnright
TerryEnright

  Mr. Brandt, I listen to you on Sirius when you are on Ross Tucker's show and you seem like you really have a good understanding of the game (as of course, you should). That's why I'm a little puzzled about a few things. First, yes, Brady's contract did help Brady, but the restructuring also helped the Pats. Should he be sainted? No, but I don't remember him asking to be. In fact, I've never heard Brady discuss his contract at all, just not his style. You really think the Pats have will trouble trying to decide what to do with Brady in 2015? I'll tell you what they'll do. Catastrophic injury aside, they'll direct him to the huddle and say, "Tom, keep doing what you've been doing since 2000." Also, you're correct, Brady will not play for a third of what other QBs are making, he'll renegotiate, but I assume the CAP will be higher, therefore not as painful a procedure as it sounds. I know, I know, why would the Pats renegotiate with a player under contract? Because he's Tom freakin' Brady, that's why! The day Tom Brady leaves the Pats due to a salary dispute, is the day after the Kraft's sell the team.

dei1c3
dei1c3

What a ridiculous premise.  People don't say "Brady took less" because they're comparing what he was scheduled to make before the extension vs after it (as the author does when he claims that Brady took more).  They say it because they mean he took less than he could have gotten in the extension if he made the same demands that guys like Manning, Flacco, etc... made.

ShaunHarper
ShaunHarper

Andrew, don't you know Peter King has consistently written how Tom took less to help the team?  I don't think you read the fine print of your contract with MMQB.... 


  The MMQB, Peter King, and any guest writers shall never say a cross word about Tom Brady, the Patriots, the Patriot way, Belichick, Belicheat, or Giselle's nasty feet...


kcotreau
kcotreau

This seems like very convenient and biased analysis to me. While Brady might be making $3 million more over the next two years, consider that Flacco makes $20M, Matt Ryan makes almost $21M, and Aaron Rogers makes $22M. So if Brady made Rogers money, since he is the closest in skill level, Brady would be making $44M over the next two years, so he really left $11M on the table.

I don't know about the average user here, but to me, $11M is not chump change. Of course, if the contract for 2015-2017 does not get renegotiated, then the numbers skyrocket even further.

themekons
themekons

I agree - this is close to being an incoherent analysis.

JamesDeMarco
JamesDeMarco

@kcotreau only a matter of time before Patriot/Brady haters would rear their ugly heads. 

DougMasters
DougMasters

@Reedster2185 Exactly when was any other NFL team in a position to offer Brady a contract?   You, along with many dopes in the media, cannot get it through your thick heads that Brady has played for less per year than   Manning (closest player to him in skill set and career accomplishments)  over the course of his career.

pmccnn
pmccnn

@Reedster2185 It must suck being an idiot.; to be so bitter and jealous of the success of Tom Brady and the Patriots. I don't know what team you follow but I hope you enjoy another Patriots run in the playoffs. See ya!

BillieBob
BillieBob

@Reedster2185 

For all those unfamiliar with this guy's obsessive drivel, he clearly is either jealous of Tom Brady, or -- more likely -- jealous of Gisele. SI can't mention the Patriots or Belichick or Brady without the obligatory Reedster rant. Everybody needs a reason to live and Reedster's seems to be hating anything Patriot. Sad and weird...

golden_lyle
golden_lyle

@Reedster2185 You sound bitter. The Pats are a championship contender year after year. Why in the world would you want to start over from scratch?

StephenCurtis
StephenCurtis

@Reedster2185 not everyone. Read peter king. He points out all the time how tom took one for the team and what a team player he is. How manning with his 20 million salary isn't as much a team player as tom brady was. just read all the crap national media writes about brady makes me sick. I don't have an issue with brady. i have an issue with how he is covered. 

WestcoastMD
WestcoastMD

@Reedster2185 Um, no dude. And his name isn't Little Tommy. From the looks of your avatar, you're probably old enough to know how to refer to someone with class and dignity. 

piizzadude
piizzadude

@Reedster2185 I agreed with you up until and right after the "they will not go far" comment. They will make the championship game, which is about where they should go. KC, despite early success, isn't quite up to the challenge.

rjl8125
rjl8125

@BillieBob @Reedster2185 Actually, it's worse than that. I've noticed the even if an article does NOT mention Brady or the Pats he finds a way to tie it them just so he can whine about them. It's pretty sad.

Scramble
Scramble

You act like he did it all by himself, just like Flacco did.

WestcoastMD
WestcoastMD

@Reedster2185 @WestcoastMD Play in 5 superbowls and win 3 of them, then share with us your opinions on Brady. From the sound of it, he may have kicked you in the crotch. And if he hasn't, he should.

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