Is Tom Brady's Contract the Secret to the Patriots' Winning Ways?

Just ask any of Tom Brady's many backup quarterbacks from his days in New England: the man loves playing the game of football—and winning—more than just about anyone else . Maybe he relishes it so much because, by all accounts, his career has been beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Consider that in high school, he didn't even start at quarterback for the freshmen team. As a sophomore at the University of Michigan, he was so frustrated by not getting to play that he got help from a sports psychologist . By his own admission , he had no illusions of playing in the NFL—having served as a back up for two years, and starting out seventh on the QB depth chart.

Source: Keith Allison, via Wikimedia Commons 

But by now, he's already appeared in five Super Bowls—being two miraculous Eli Manning passes away from a 5-0 record in the big game. And today, he'll take the field for his league-record  eighth AFC championship game.

You can tune into ESPN or another sports outlet to read about Brady's talent, leadership, and football prowess—and how it's led to unmatched success. But because we're a finance website, let's focus for one minute on an underappreciated aspect of Brady's success: his penchant for signing contracts that are the most likely to help his team get to—and win—Super Bowls.

How much are we talking here?
I recently published an article talking about how the Chicago Bears made a huge blunder in signing quarterback Jay Cutler to one of the richest contracts in NFL history. As part of the analysis, I compared Cutler's contract to the 10 highest-paid QBs in the NFL. One name was conspicuously missing from that list: Brady's.

That's because he ranks right in the middle of the pack as far as average yearly pay is concerned: 15th in the league. It's incredible to think that guys like Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, and Matt Schaub all average significantly higher.

Source: Overthecap.com 

Of course, I'm not going to argue that Brady's a martyr, or that he's going to have a rough time affording the things that anyone needs in life. Between him and his wife—multi-million-dollar supermodel Gisele Bundchen—I'm sure they'll be just fine.

Instead, it's worth noting that for quite some time, Brady's had absolutely no interest in using his salary to validate himself as one of the game's greatest. His Super Bowl rings have taken care of that.

Back in 2005, at the age of 27—his prime negotiating window—and with three Super Bowl wins under his belt, Brady shocked many by taking what, by NFL standards, was a very reasonable contract: six years and $60 million. That was a significant discount to what Peyton Manning and Michael Vick were earning at the time.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated captured it best when he wrote: "Brady could have asked for anything and won the public relations battle with the team.... But Tom Brady gets it. He knows there have been only so many sporting Camelots in recent history, and he's smack-dab in the middle of one of them ." 

Brady was later quoted as saying: "To be the highest-paid, or anything like that, is not going to make me feel any better. That's not what makes me happy. In this game, the more one player gets, the more he takes away from what others can get." 

Helping out the team
Brady couldn't have been more right. The more he's paid, the less talent he's likely to have around him. By looking at Brady's average contract of about $11 million, and comparing it to Manning's $19 million, we get an idea for the kind of talent that might not be around if Brady demanded top-dollar.

If you watched the Patriots battle against the Colts last week, you no doubt saw their offensive line—led by Logan Mankins—dominate Indianapolis and open up holes for running back Legarrette Blount. But the Patriots probably couldn't afford Mankins, or a few other players, if they had someone else at quarterback.

Player

2013 Salary (millions)

Vince Wilfork

 $10.6

Logan Mankins

 $10.0

Jerod Mayo

 $5.9

Aqib Talib

 $4.8

Source: SportsCity.com 

Sadly, both Wilfork and Mayo were injured this year. But before that, both players were leaders on the Patriots' defense, and Pro Bowl players last year . Mankins and cornerback Talib are headed to the Pro Bowl  this year—if they lose today against the Broncos.

Putting the nay-sayers in perspective
To be clear, Tom Brady isn't the only NFL player who reworks his contract to help the team. Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, has done it on a number of occasions. And many will be quick to point out that Brady's guaranteed money—which comes whether he gets injured or not—is higher than for most his age.

Those are fair points, but they miss the bigger picture: Tom Brady has consistently done what it takes to make his contract a non-issue—and done more than any other quarterback to give back to his teammates. All contracts need to be approved by both the NFL and the players' union. I would imagine that had Brady signed for anything less, it would've raised issues with the union, and possibly upset the locker room.

Of course, there's no way to know how that might've played out, but that's the whole point: Brady and the team wouldn't have that be a distraction. They're focused on winning, and ever since the turn of the century, no one's done that better than Brady.

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