New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft flew from Boston to Los Angeles with quarterback Tom Brady about five weeks ago, which was the first time he presented the potential of a contract extension that would strengthen the possibility of Brady retiring as a member of the franchise.
"I was probably wearing my fan hat as much as anything else," Kraft told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "I just didn't want to ever see this become like Joe Montana leaving San Francisco, Emmitt Smith leaving Dallas, Brett Favre leaving Green Bay, Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis. If Tom Brady played out this current contract and left us, there was no doubt in my mind that someone out there would pay him top dollar, and they should, for his ability, his leadership and his unselfishness.
"I was just trying to stay ahead of the curve. If we were going to have to pay him elite-quarterback money and have elite-quarterback cap numbers, I just didn't think we would be able to build a team. We don't want to have a team where we're paying 18 to 20 percent to a player on the cap. I wanted to do something elegant that would work for everybody. I had been talking to him off and on for maybe 18 months, about how I wanted him to finish his career here, and about how we both have to be smart about it. I just really want him to end his career a Patriot.''
Brady already was under contract for 2013 and 2014, but with the extension, his deal now runs through 2017. According to league sources, Brady received a $30 million signing bonus with the deal that clears up $15 million of cap space for the team over the next two seasons. Although he averages a well-below-market value $9 million per season, he is guaranteed $57 million, even in the event of injury; however, he can be released for performance reasons and would not receive all of the money.
While it's possible that the sides could renegotiate the contract again in a few years, Kraft insisted that's not part of the master plan.
"This is a real deal," Kraft told King. "Look at our track record. We don't do fake deals. The contract we have with Tom Brady is a real contract we will both live by. ...
"I am glad we are able to take negotiations out of this relationship for the next five years," Kraft said. "Look, I don't know what's going to happen in the next five years. No one can know. But this move, strategically, helps us be in a position to win. We're going to spend to the cap. Tom knows that it's not like whatever we don't pay him we're putting in the Kraft family pocket. He gets it, and now he's rooting for us to make the right decisions in building the team. By the way, I have heard that it's been reported Tom made demands about who he wanted us to sign. Absolutely not. It never happened."
Kraft sees benefits and risks for both sides.
"I presented an idea to him that I thought could work for both sides," Kraft told King. "We're taking a chance making this commitment, and he's taking one, in terms of his ability to maximize pay. I just thought if winning is the most important thing to him, and I think it is, and it certainly is to our family, this gives us the best chance to win. Hopefully we have an elite quarterback that, even if his skills decline even a little bit, he'll still be better than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the league. And his legacy -- I already believe he's the greatest of all time -- if we win one or two more, he can solidify that.''