Restructuring trims $3.3 million from '04 cap

The consummate team player concluded his work week Thursday night by leading the New England Patriots to a season-opening victory, but quarterback Tom Brady actually began the week by helping New England with its salary cap problems.

Brady, a two-time Super Bowl , earlier this week had his base salary reduced to $535,000 -- the league minimum for a five-year veteran -- ESPN.com has learned. New England then made up the difference of $4.965 million in a signing bonus. Brady was scheduled to earn a base salary of $5.5 million this season.

Known as a simple restructuring, one in which the player still receives all the money due him but with the compensation redistributed, the maneuver shaved approximately $3.3 million from the Patriots' 2004 salary cap. Brady was at least the second Patriot, joining running back Corey Dillon, to agree to such a restructuring. There likely were a few more as well.

New England was one of only three teams over the cap at the outset of the week. Because the Patriots opened the season Thursday, however, they had less time to come into compliance with the league's $80.5 million spending limit.

It marked the second consecutive season in which Brady, who threw three touchdown passes in a 27-24 victory over Indianapolis, provided his team with much-needed salary cap relief.

The only downside for the Patriots is that the bookkeeping maneuver further raises Brady's already exorbitant salary cap charges for the two remaining years of his current contract. It is believed that Brady's cap charge for 2005 is now about $10.29 million and that his charge for the '06 season exceeds $14 million.

Such ponderous charges are all but impossible to carry. The Patriots could, in 2005, again complete the type of simple restructuring carried out this week. The ultimate solution, however, will likely be a new, long-term contract that further reflects Brady's status as one of the most high-profile players in the league.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.