Tom Brady raised eyebrows several years ago when initially stating he wanted to play football at least until he’s 45 because the idea seemed far-fetched. The 44-year old quarterback is raising eyebrows now because he was noncommittal about playing a 23rd NFL season following the Buccaneers‘ 30-27 loss to the Rams in the divisional playoff round.
This is a departure from previous years once Brady’s season ended. Typically, he would unequivocally dismiss the notion of retiring.
Brady doesn’t have a specific timetable for making a decision about his career. The seven-time Super Bowl champion provided some insight into his thought process Monday on his ‘Let’s Go!’ podcast. Brady said, “It’s not always what I want. It’s what we want as a family.” He also uncharacteristically used “satisfied” as one of the words to describe the Buccaneers’ accomplishments this season despite losing in the divisional playoffs.
Father Time doesn’t appear to be catching up with Brady. He’s had an MVP caliber season. Brady threw for a league leading (and a career high) 5,316 yards and 43 touchdown passes. His 67.5 completion percentage is the second best mark in his career.
Brady is under contract through the 2022 season. He freed up $19.3 million of 2021 salary cap room last March with a one-year, $27,941,176 contract extension, which helped the Buccaneers “keep the band together” to try to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The extension included three voiding/dummy contract years (2023 through 2025) so his fully guaranteed $20 million fifth day of the 2021 league year roster bonus and $20 million signing bonus could be prorated over five years (through 2025) instead of over just two years (through 2022).
Brady is scheduled to make $10,395,588 in 2022 on a $20,270,588 cap number. The $10,395,588 consists of an injury guaranteed $8.925 million base salary that becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2022 league year waiver period (Feb. 18) and a $1,470,588 17th regular season game roster bonus.
What a Brady retirement would mean for Bucs
The Buccaneers would have $32 million of dead money, which is a salary cap charge for a player no longer on a team’s roster, with Brady retiring before June 2. That’s almost $11.8 million more than Brady’s 2022 cap number. Retirement would void the $8.925 million salary guarantee.
The Buccaneers aren’t really in a position to handle an increased 2022 cap obligation relating to Brady. There are currently $189.992 million in 2022 cap commitments with 46 players under contract and a little more than $1.425 million of cap space being carried over to the 2022 league year according to NFLPA data. Only the top 51 salaries (i.e.; cap numbers) matter with offseason salary cap accounting rules. The 2022 salary cap is expected to be at the $208.2 million ceiling the NFL and NFLPA agreed to last May. Once there are 51 players counting, Tampa Bay is projected to be $15.5 million under this ceiling.
This increase could be avoided with waiting to process a Brady retirement by carrying him on the roster until at least June 2. By doing so, the $24 million of bonus proration associated with the dummy or fake 2023 through 2025 contract years would be a 2023 salary cap charge rather than part of the 2022 dead money, which would be $8 million. The Buccaneers would pick up $12,270,588 of 2022 cap room with Brady’s 2022 salary and $1.875 million of incentives deemed likely to be earned that have a cap charge coming off the books.
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The Panthers did this with 2010s All-Decade team linebacker Luke Kuechly when he retired two years ago, so the remaining bonus proration in his contract would count on the cap in 2020 and 2021 instead of just in 2020. Leaving the contract intact with Brady continuing to take up one of the 90 offseason roster spots would be the easier way to preserve the option for him to have a change of heart about playing next season, like Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre did in 2008, if he had already announced his retirement.
A sign of Brady not considering a return would be the Buccaneers taking a page out the Saints‘ book with quarterback Drew Brees’ retirement last year. Prior to Brees announcing his retirement last March, he and the Saints agreed to reduce his $25 million 2021 base salary to $1.075 million, his 2021 league minimum salary, so $23.925 million of much needed cap relief could be gained instantly. Brees was carried on the Saints’ roster until June 11 to prevent the $11.5 million in bonus proration relating to his voiding 2022 and 2023 contract years from becoming a 2021 cap charge. This $11.5 million is 2022 dead money.
It would entail Brady dropping his 2022 base salary to his $1.12 million league minimum while eliminating his nearly $1.5 million roster bonus and $1.875 million of incentives qualifying as likely to be earned. Tampa Bay would get $11,150,588 of immediate cap relief. Once Brady was placed on the reserve/retired list after June 1, an additional $1.12 million of cap room would be generated from the removal of his base salary.
Would Tampa Bay give Brady a $16M parting gift?
The unanswered question would be whether the Buccaneers would forego extra cap savings by giving Brady a $16 million parting gift. When a player retires, a team has the right to demand repayment of the remaining signing bonus proration. There’s $4 million of annual signing bonus proration for Brady’s 2022 contract year and the three voiding/dummy years (2023 through 2025).
Bonus recovery policy depends on the team. The Lions have had a strained relationship with Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson because of an insistence that he repay $1.6 million of signing bonus when he retired in 2016. The 49ers got an undisclosed sum back from linebacker Patrick Willis, who is a 2022 Hall of Fame finalist, when he retired in 2015. The Seahawks didn’t pursue any of the $7.5 million signing bonus from the contract extension running back Marshawn Lynch signed in 2015 after his initial retirement in 2016.
Brady would be required to repay $4 million by June 1 in each of those respective years under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Since the Buccaneers would only get cap relief after actual receipt of the money, it wouldn’t make a dramatic impact in any one year. Forgoing the $16 million may be a small price for Tampa Bay to pay considering the ending of a 13-year playoff drought and the second Super Bowl win in franchise history coincided with Brady’s arrival in 2021.