- Maddie Meyer/Getty
- Tom Brady has made $197 million over the course of his career, but he could have made more.
- Brady has frequently taken contract extensions and restructured his deals to help the New England Patriots address other spots on the roster, giving up at least $60 million over the course of his career.
- We conservatively calculated what Brady might have earned in his career if he had signed a new deal equal to the going rate for top quarterback contracts throughout his career.
- The conservative estimate put his contract discounts at $60 million, but could have been closer to $100 million.
The New England Patriots have ruled the NFL for two decades in a way no other team in league history ever has.
A big part of that has been finding a legendary quarterback in Tom Brady, who not only has dominated on the field but has sacrificed to put his team in a good position.
Brady has made plenty of money in his NFL career – about $197 million – but what if he had not taken less or restructured contracts over the course of his career to help the Patriots out? Brady would be a richer man, and perhaps the highest-paid player in NFL history.
If Brady consistently signed deals equal to those of the biggest quarterback contracts, we found he could have made $257.9 million to this date. That is about $60 million more than his actual earnings, and approximately $9 million more than Peyton Manning made in his career, the most in NFL history (you can see how we reached this number below).
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Measuring such a thing is not an exact science. In the NFL, even the best and highest-paid players rarely see the end of a contract. In Brady and the Patriots’ case, they have frequently adjusted his deals to lower his base salary and cap hits to address roster needs while giving him a bigger signing bonus and money upfront.
To project Brady’s non-discounted career earnings, we kept his rookie deal and first extension the same. In 2002, Brady signed a four-year, $28 million contract. His next extension came in 2005. By this point he had won three Super Bowls and was a 2-time Super Bowl MVP. It is safe to assume that by 2005, he could have started commanding top contracts.
We imagined a scenario where Brady signed new deals in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017 that were the equivalent of the going rate for the top quarterback at the time. In each of those four years, we imagined Brady signing a new contract equal to that of the biggest contracts for veteran quarterbacks that had been signed before that season or the previous season. We also imagined that Brady only played four seasons under each contract and then signed a new deal.
Here are the contracts we used:
- 2005: Peyton Manning – 7 years, $99.2 million
- 2009: Eli Manning – 6 years, $99.8 million
- 2013: Drew Brees – 5 years, $100 million
- 2017: Ben Roethlisberger – 4 years, $87.4 million
An important note: In 2017, Matthew Stafford signed the largest quarterback deal at five years, $135 million. However, with Brady turning 40 that season, we hedged, imagining the Patriots exercising caution and not committing such a number to a player entering his 40s.
Again, that’s a conservative estimate. If we were to use Stafford’s $135 million contract in 2017, Brady would have given up something closer to $76 million to this point in his career.
One could also argue that Brady could demand better than the top quarterback deals in any given year. For instance, Brady could have demanded what the top quarterbacks got, plus 10% more. Who would say no?
A more aggressive estimate would suggest that Brady has sacrificed something closer to $100 million.
Of course, it’s possible that if Brady took a max contract every chance he could, his legacy and the Patriots’ might be different. In 2007, Brady restructured his deal to make room for Randy Moss. In recent years, he has taken money upfront so the Patriots could re-sign key free agents. Perhaps if Brady had not restructured or agreed to new deals, the Patriots would not have been as good, taking some of the luster away from both parties.
Brady has said he wants to play until he’s 45, meaning he has a few more opportunities to still cash in. But at the moment, the best quarterback in NFL history won’t go down as the highest-paid.