Agent's Take: Tom Brady leads the way in NFL career earnings despite taking a team-first approach to contracts

Agent’s Take: Tom Brady leads the way in NFL career earnings despite taking a team-first approach to contracts

Tom Brady will be making the transition from the football field to the broadcast booth once he decides to permanently hang up his cleats. Fox Sports announced last week that Brady, who turns 45 in August, will become its lead analyst on NFL games and work as an “ambassador” for the network with a focus on “client and promotional initiatives” when his career is over. The 2022 season is the final year of Brady’s contract with the Buccaneers.

Brady’s deal is reportedly worth $375 million over 10 years. It is the most lucrative contract in sports broadcasting history.

The value of Brady’s contract with Fox Sports is more than he has made from his NFL player contracts. None of Brady’s NFL player contracts have averaged $37.5 million per year like his reported broadcasting deal.

Last season, Brady was first to hit the $300 million mark in on-field earnings. Two other players, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, will join Brady in the $300 million club by the end of the upcoming 2022 season.

The chart below breaks down who will be the top five in the NFL player contract earnings after the 2022 season is completed using NFLPA data. Cumulative cash after each year is listed. Collectively bargained amounts for playoff money or participating in offseason workouts are not included in the totals. For simplicity’s sake, signing bonus deferrals aren’t taken into account either.

A look at how each player’s totals were derived follows the chart.

Year

Tom Brady

Aaron Rodgers

Matthew Stafford

Matt Ryan

Drew Brees

2000

$231,500 

2001

$529,500 

$2,165,000 

2002

$4,404,500 

$2,565,000 

2003

$13,529,500 

$4,545,000 

2004

$19,034,500 

$6,545,000 

2005

$34,534,500 

$2,350,000

$14,623,000 

2006

$50,534,500 

$5,710,000

$24,623,000 

2007

$56,534,500 

$6,215,000

$39,623,000 

2008

$64,534,500 

$19,115,000

$12,800,000 

$44,623,000 

2009

$72,534,500 

$27,715,000

$3,100,000 

$20,700,000 

$54,624,000 

2010

$99,034,500 

$34,215,000

$30,000,000 

$30,950,000 

$64,623,000 

2011

$109,034,500 

$41,965,000

$39,000,000 

$42,200,000 

$74,623,000 

2012

$121,034,500 

$50,465,000

$50,500,000 

$53,700,000 

$114,623,000 

2013

$152,034,500 

$90,465,000

$82,000,000 

$83,700,000 

$124,623,000 

2014

$154,034,500 

$101,365,000

$84,000,000 

$105,200,000 

$135,623,000 

2015

$162,034,500 

$112,965,000

$93,500,000 

$116,700,000 

$154,623,000 

2016

$190,799,206 

$125,565,000

$110,500,000 

$132,450,000 

$185,873,000 

2017

$191,799,206 

$138,877,500

$161,500,000 

$148,200,000 

$198,873,000 

2018

$206,799,206 

$205,777,500

$178,000,000 

$200,700,000 

$225,873,000 

2019

$229,799,206 

$235,037,500

$197,500,000 

$222,200,000 

$248,873,000 

2020

$258,174,206 

$242,327,500

$219,000,000 

$242,700,000 

$273,873,000 

2021

$302,594,794 

$264,692,206

$239,558,824 

$267,052,941 

2022

$317,594,794 

$306,692,206

$301,058,824 

$291,758,823 

Total

$317,594,794 

$306,692,206

$301,058,824 

$291,758,823 

$273,873,000 

Brady would have a bigger lead as the NFL’s top money earner given his longevity if maximizing his playing contracts had been his primary objective. He started taking a unique approach to his contracts in 2013 when he first renegotiated the four-year, $72 million contract extension he signed in 2010 which made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at $18 million per year. Brady began consistently giving the Patriots hometown discounts instead of driving the market.

The approach paid dividends for Brady in allowing the Patriots to assemble a more talented roster than they would have otherwise. Brady won three more Super Bowl rings in New England after starting that process.

Money again took a back seat to the talent on the roster when Brady was looking for a new home as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. His initial deal with the Buccaneers was a fully guaranteed $50 million over two years worth up to $59 million with incentives. After winning Super Bowl LV, Brady was more interested in “keeping the band together” to try to repeat as champions than his own money when doing a one-year, $27,941,176 extension that freed up $19.3 million of 2021 salary cap space.

Should Brady decide to continue playing football after 2022, he could leverage the Fox deal into the biggest average yearly salary of his career. Given Brady’s history, it is more likely that the Fox contract will give Brady more latitude to take even less money to play football in 2023 and beyond.

Hometown discount and Aaron Rodgers are words that don’t belong in the same sentence. Rodgers has signed contracts on three separate occasions that have made him the NFL’s highest-paid player. The first time was in 2013 with his five-year, $110 million extension averaging $22 million per year when he had two years remaining on his contract.

The next time was in 2018 when Rodgers also had two years left on his contract. Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million extension worth a maximum of $138 million through salary escalators and incentives. His $57.5 million signing bonus was the biggest ever in an NFL contract at the time.

Rodgers, who was entering a contract year, helped changed the NFL financial landscape in March by becoming the NFL’s first $50 million-per-year player once he decided he wanted to remain with the Packers rather than try to force a trade. Rodgers’ new contract is widely considered to be $150.815 million over three years although there are two additional below-market years in the deal.

How long Rodgers, who is 38, continues playing remains to be seen. Since Rodgers is scheduled to make $59.515 million and $49.3 million in 2023 and 2024, he’ll be the first to earn $400 million on the football field if he plays those seasons.

Stafford was one of the last beneficiaries of early draft picks receiving mega-deals prior to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement creating a rookie wage scale. As the first pick overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford received a six-year, $72 million deal (worth a maximum of $78 million through base salary escalators and incentives) containing $41.7 million in guarantees. When Stafford signed with the Lions, his contract was comparable to Rodgers and Brady’s despite never playing a down in the NFL.

Stafford made $50.5 million over the first four years of his rookie deal. It’s the second most an NFL player has ever made over his first four years of his first contract behind 2010 first overall pick Sam Bradford’s $51.045 million. By contrast, 2022 first overall pick Travon Walker’s fully guaranteed four-year deal with the Jaguars is worth $37,372,624.

Stafford became the NFL’s highest-paid player in 2017 with a five-year, $135 million extension averaging $27 million per year from the Lions. The deal also established new league benchmarks with a $50 million signing bonus and $60.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Stafford left money on the table with the four-year, $160 million extension he signed with the Rams in March. The deal has $135 million in guarantees, which includes a $60 million signing bonus.

Stafford probably had the contract leverage to name his own price on an extension after a stellar postseason in which the Rams won Super Bowl LVI and considering the steep acquisition cost to get him from the Lions. The Rams gave up a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick as well as starting quarterback Jared Goff for Stafford.

Instead of fully exploiting his leverage, Stafford reportedly wanted a fair deal that would also help the Rams. It’s unlikely there would have been any objections if Stafford had insisted on being put in the same place Goff — who the Rams viewed as an inferior quarterback — was in the NFL salary hierarchy on his 2019 deal. Goff’s four-year, $134 million extension (worth as much as $147.95 million because of incentives and salary escalators) tied him with Rodgers as the league’s second-highest-paid player by average yearly salary. This would have meant $46 million per year for Stafford.

Ryan got a big financial head start, like Stafford, as 2008’s third overall pick by the Falcons. His six-year rookie deal was worth up to $72 million with $34.75 million guaranteed. Ryan became the league’s second-highest-paid player behind Rodgers at $20.75 million per year with the five-year, $103.75 million extension he signed in 2013.

Ryan was the NFL’s first $30 million-per-year player. He signed a five-year, $150 million extension in 2018, which included then NFL records of $100 million in overall guarantees and $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. 

Ryan requested a trade after Atlanta’s failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson. He was dealt to the Colts toward the end of March. Colts owner Jim Irsay recently said he wants the 37-year-old Ryan in Indianapolis long term. He is under contract through the 2023.

Brees made more money from his first franchise tag with the Chargers in 2005 for $8.078 million than he did in his first four NFL seasons as a 2001 second-round pick. He joined the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006 on a six-year, $60 million contract. 

Brees had some acrimonious contract negotiations with the Saints despite eventually becoming the face of the franchise. After being designated as franchise player in 2012, Brees filed and won a grievance against the Saints clarifying whether franchise tags applied across teams or were specific to teams. The favorable ruling helped Brees become the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year player on a five-year, $100 million deal days before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long term.

Brees gave the Saints a financial break for the first time in his numerous contract dealings with the franchise in 2018 instead of exploiting his leverage by exploring potential options with other teams. He signed a two-year, $50 million contract with $27 million fully guaranteed to remain in New Orleans after limiting negotiations to just the Saints. It’s conceivable that Brees could have been the league’s first $30 million player instead of Ryan had he used his leverage.

Brees gave the Saints another break financially in 2020 with another two-year, $50 million contract structured similarly to his 2018 deal. When Brees retired after the 2020 season, he was the NFL career earnings leader ahead of Brady by almost $15.7 million.

Brees has raised eyebrows a couple of days ago by hinting he could end his one-year retirement to make a comeback. New Saints head coach Dennis Allen thinks Brees’ comments were in jest.

Nonetheless, the Saints still have Brees’ contractual rights after putting the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer on the reserve/retired list last June. The final year of Brees’ contract, in which his 2021 base salary was reduced from $25 million to his $1.075 million league minimum salary for cap purposes that tolled upon retirement, would be reinstated should he resume playing. 

A new contract would need to be agreed upon since Brees almost certainly wouldn’t return to play for his $1.12 million 2022 league minimum salary. The Saints have seemingly moved on with Jameis Winston, who was backing up Brees in 2020, by signing him to a two-year, $28 million contract (worth a maximum of $44 million through salary escalators and incentives) with $21 million in guarantees. Because of this, trading Brees, like the Patriots did with tight end Rob Gronkowski when he ended his one-year hiatus, could make a lot sense if he is serious about returning to action.


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