By Arthur Arkush, Pro Football Weekly
The Ravens are Super Bowl champions, but it is the Patriots, once again, proving that they’re a step ahead of the rest of the NFL.
While Baltimore wrestles with how badly they will be forced to overpay Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco — or risk potentially losing him altogether by applying the franchise tag — the Patriots signed future first-ballot Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady to a three-year, $27 million contract extension on Monday.
That is just $1 million more annually than the deal Alex Smith agreed to with the Niners last offseason. Peyton Manning earned nearly as much from the Broncos during the 2012 season alone.
Brady’s extension, which doesn’t kick in until 2015, in all likelihood will never kick in. It’s more likely that he’ll play out the final two years of his old deal, before he and the Patriots tear up this extension and reassess where things stand. But the move reportedly saves the club $15 million in cap space this season, giving Bill Belichick and Co. the flexibility to restock and reload for the last few runs of the soon-to-be 36-year-old Brady’s illustrious career.
The rest of the league is busy scratching their heads wondering how the Patriots do it, but should they really be surprised?
There is a reason New England has been the most successful franchise in the NFL over the past decade and a half — it's the club consistently raising its own bar.
Aside from Belichick’s kryptonite in recent years, acquiring young DBs, he has run circles around the rest of the league. Sure, the Patriots have been unable to add to their Super Bowl hardware for the past eight years, but their regular-season dominance and perennial presence as a leading threat to hoist the Lombardi Trophy year after year is hardly an accident.
Belichick has turned stockpiling draft picks and maneuvering his draft board accordingly into an art form each April. Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth were misses, but there still isn’t a front-office man who turns one team’s trash into another’s treasure (and vice versa) like Belichick and the Patriots.
Chip Kelly will bring his high-flying, breakneck-paced offense to the NFL this fall, but, in many respects, it’s already here, what with Belichick having worked closely with Kelly to gain valuable insight on how tempo can make an offense unstoppable in the right circumstances. (The Texans still haven't gotten lined up properly because of Brady's assasin-like quickness and efficiency in the red zone during the team's two meetings last season.)
Belichick’s vision to run his offense through a pair of insanely talented, mismatch chess pieces at tight end, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, wasn’t his originally, but he recognized the right time to reestablish it in the NFL and the proper personnel, in the same draft no less, to orchestrate the dangerous scheme.
Belichick and Pats salary-cap managers deserve an unbelievable amount of credit for getting this done, but I would be remiss if I didn’t laud Brady’s actions. Did he really take less money? Again, I suspect, at the end of the day, this deal will be ripped up and Brady will have one last opportunity before his career is finished to cash in at market value. Yet, it was a selfless move that wouldn’t fly with the massive egos of many of the NFL’s biggest stars. As intense a competitor as we’ve ever seen, Brady simply wants to win. If that means taking Alex Smith money, or just the simple perception of it, fine by him.
Does this move allow the Patriots to go out and get the secondary help and outside speed at the wide receiver position to make another run or two, or re-sign the core veteran free agents that otherwise might have been cap casualties? It's surely going to help.
More than anything, though, this is more proof that Bill Belichick and the Patriots are smarter than the rest of us. It says here that isn’t going to change after Brady finally hangs them up, either.