Throwing money at Tom Brady suddenly seems prudent


TAMPA — I am here to repent. I am here to convert.

I am here to acknowledge the wonder of Tom Brady is greater than I ever imagined.

At this time a year ago, I wrote that Tampa Bay’s signing of Brady was amazing, bold and exciting. Those were my exact words. I also wrote that it was nuts because the only way it made sense to sign a 43-year-old quarterback was if you were certain he was taking you to the Super Bowl.

So, um, who is the nut now?

Last week, the Bucs signed Brady to another contract that makes it likely he will have a place in their huddle for another two seasons. Now the idea of a 45-year-old quarterback suddenly seems both thoughtful and wise.

That’s how good Brady is. He makes you reconsider the borders of possibility.

No matter how this story eventually plays out, bringing Brady to Tampa Bay in 2020 will always be viewed as an inspired gamble by coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht. It didn’t just lead to a Lombardi Trophy, it also changed the perception of a franchise.

So does that mean last week’s contract extension is equally inspired? Time, and another postseason, will tell. But it’s not nearly as big of a gamble as last season, even though the Bucs have now committed themselves to a quarterback of unprecedented age by 2022.

That’s because we now know Brady’s subpar season in New England in 2019 had more to do with the talent surrounding him than age catching up to him. We also know that Brady’s success was not at all dependent on the Patriot way of doing things.

This time, the gamble is more about future days. What the Bucs have done with Brady’s contract extension is given themselves a decent shot at returning to the Super Bowl in the upcoming season by borrowing from salary caps in the years to come.

Essentially, they gave Brady what he wanted — an extra guaranteed season worth another $25 million — then tacked on several phantom seasons and manipulated the terms of his actual payouts. All of this was done to significantly reduce his salary cap hit in 2021-22, while shifting some of the burden to the salary cap in 2023-24 when there’s a decent chance he will be retired.

That’s sort of like playing poker with a credit card, which isn’t really advisable and it’s something the Bucs have avoided doing for years. But when you have the most recognizable player in the world on your billboards and a legitimate chance at defending a Super Bowl title, you can make a pretty strong case that the gamble is worth it.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean it will work exactly as planned. The Saints similarly manipulated Drew Brees’ contract in recent years and, while he led them to the NFC South crown in 2020, his 42-year-old body was pretty banged up by the time the playoffs rolled around and the Bucs eliminated them in the division round.

Now that Brees has announced his retirement, New Orleans will be on the hook for about $11.1 million in wasted salary cap space for each of the next two seasons.

At some point in the future, the Bucs will be facing a similar scenario. But the tradeoff is they get to keep Brady for another two seasons and, by artificially lowering his salary cap hit for 2021, they had enough money to bring Shaquil Barrett, Chis Godwin, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski and others back.

There’s a chance the Bucs could do more salary cap manipulations in the coming days to create even more space — David and Barrett already included voidable years on their contracts — which would help their 2021 chances while making the future look even more bleak.

For now, however, the sunburn from the Super Bowl boat parade is still pretty sweet. And the memories of how Brady reimagined an offense and inspired a locker room will live on for quite some time.

When you look at it that way, committing another season to a quarterback in his mid-40s doesn’t seem so outlandish. You might even say the Bucs would have been nuts not to do it.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.