While superstar professional athletes have a reputation for being vastly overpaid, some players with lucrative contracts may actually be a major bargain for their owners. On Super Bowl Sunday, the New England Patriots will turn to veteran quarterback Tom Brady to lead them to yet another NFL title, making his $14.1 million average yearly salary look like a steal for the organization and owner Robert Kraft.
According to Forbes, the Patriots are the No. 2 wealthiest team in the NFL at $2.6 billion. A key reason the Patriots have risen in value is due to their success between 2001 and 2014, advancing to the Super Bowl five times and winning three titles. Should Brady propel the Patriots past the Seattle Seahawks this weekend, there will be talk that his four titles make him one of the greatest quarterbacks ever -- making his salary look even more like a pittance.
Other star quarterbacks of comparative age, like the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning ($19.2 million) and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees ($20 million), have not come close to achieving the team success that Brady has brought to the Patriots. Meanwhile, there are 15 quarterbacks ahead of Brady in average annual pay, according to sportrac.com, and eight of those quarterbacks cannot boast of even one trip to the Super Bowl.
Brady will earn $8 million in salary in 2015, $9 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017. By comparison, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who has never come close to reaching the Super Bowl, has a base salary of $15.5 million in 2015 and $16 million in 2016. Only MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, who led the Green Bay Packers to the NFC Championship Game and earned $22 million in 2014, had a better season than Brady statistically.
From a salary-cap-hit perspective, Brady still looks like a bargain. He is tied with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 11 among quarterbacks ($14.8 million) in the category, and trailed St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford by nearly $3 million. Bradford has played just seven games in the past two seasons, and has a career passer rating of 79.3.
Brady is hardly a poor man, but Kraft has profited greatly from the 10-time Pro Bowler’s talents. Even when the Pats weren’t advancing to the Super Bowl, Brady’s offense had the team consistently competitive and in the hunt for a title. Gillette Stadium was always filled, and Brady’s jersey sales have been among the best in the league.
In the 13 seasons in which Brady played in 15 or more games, he always completed better than 60 percent of his passes, and his lowest touchdown total was 18, which came in his first season as a full-time starter. When Brady was in top form, he was sensational. In 2007, he threw for 50 touchdowns and had a 117.2 passer rating. In the 2010 season, Brady had just four passes intercepted. The following season, he threw for 5,235 yards.
Has Brady slowed down at age 37? Not really. He competed 64.1 percent of his passes in 2014, which is above his 63.5 career average. Only four quarterbacks had a better passer rating this season.
Football is very much a team game, and the Patriots’ success must be spread around. A lot of credit goes to the coaching staff. Many might argue that head coach Bill Belichick, who like Brady has been a constant with the team, is the greatest NFL strategist of all time, with his exceptional winning percentage (72.9) in New England. In the 2008 season, Brady played in just one game due to injury, but Belichick’s squad still managed to finish with an 11-5 record behind backup Matt Cassel. Brady has had Belichick his entire pro career, and they have enjoyed shared success.
"Obviously, Bill Belichick jump-started Tom Brady's career," former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said, according to ESPN. "Yeah, we'll put Drew Bledsoe and his $100 million contract on the bench and keep this sixth-round draft choice as the quarterback. It shows you the type of balls [Belichick] has."
"But to me, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are tied at the top. I believe that one guy wouldn't have had all that success without the other. I would never pick one. Never."
But Brady’s contribution to the Patriots cannot be diminished. While his reputation has taken a hit from Deflategate, he remains highly respected by his teammates, and he hasn’t wavered as the Patriots’ consummate leader.
He has even made a financial effort to keep the club competitive while in the late stage of his career. In December, Brady restructured his contract for the next three years. It will free up $24 million in cash to sign offseason free agents. It adds $1 million per year in Brady’s base salary, and allows him to be released with less liability. The new deal should help the Pats re-sign star defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty, as well as running back Shane Vereen and offensive tackle Nate Solder.
“We're so fortunate to have him as the face of our franchise in many ways as a quarterback,” Kraft said of Brady to USA Today in November. “He's just such a wonderful, genuine person. He works so hard.”
Tim Marcin contributed to this report