One retired — sort of — for 40 days. The other threatened it for months, if not years. In the end, however, the NFL’s two middle-aged star quarterbacks are back and their contracts for 2022 make their motivations clear.
Brady will return to Tampa on a team-friendly deal he signed a year ago, costing the Buccaneers just $20.3 million (or 9.85 percent) against the salary cap. It ranks 13th among quarterbacks, just behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford, who is owed $23 million a year after leading, not coincidentally, a balanced team to the Super Bowl.
Rodgers, meanwhile, agreed to a three-year, $150 million deal last week. While the $50 million average is the highest in league history, the deal is backloaded so as to not cripple the current Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers’ cap hit for 2022 will be just $28.5 million, a relative bargain for a starting QB, let alone the guy who won the last two MVPs. It should be about 13 percent of the salary cap and will rank behind what Washington is paying Carson Wentz and Detroit is allocating to Jared Goff.
More importantly, it is down from the $46.7 million it would have cost Green Bay had the contract not been restructured. That would have gobbled up about 21.7 percent of the cap. No team has won the Super Bowl with a quarterback taking more than 15 percent.
How much more will Rodgers in 2022 compared with the other highest-paid QBs of all time:
This is a team game and no one — not even Brady and Rodgers — can win it alone. Brady has captured seven Super Bowls in part because of a long willingness to take lesser monetary deals for team success.
Don’t worry about Brady. He isn’t clipping coupons or fretting about gas prices. He’ll surpass $300 million in career earnings this season, according to Spotrac.com. And that doesn’t even count his numerous endorsements, or the even great amount of money his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, has made.
Rodgers has made $263.6 million in salary and bonuses so far, per Spotrac.com. He too — in case you don’t own a television — is prominent in commercials … something about insurance.
And Rodgers will get his money on this contract. All $150 million is guaranteed. With a signing bonus, he’ll make $41 million in 2022.
It’s just Green Bay will continue to have to restructure the deal on an annual basis and is essentially mortgaging the future for the present. That alone is a sea change in how the Packers have generally done business, one more sign that Rodgers won his battle with the franchise to change its ways and compete for titles.
It’s win-now time.
Both Brady and Rodgers got their deals done either before or as free agency began; the “legal tampering” period began Monday.
Tampa Bay had almost two dozen free agents, including more than a half-dozen prominent contributors. The Bucs can now re-sign as many as possible and likely still have money to find a game-breaking wideout to replace Antonio Brown and bolster the offensive line to protect Brady.
Green Bay, meanwhile, can now try to finagle its way under the cap and prioritize getting wide receiver Davante Adams on a long-term deal rather than resort to the franchise tag. Making sure Rodgers’ top weapon is happy will be critical.
Paying difference-making stars while maintaining the flexibility to fill out a full, competitive roster is the NFL’s toughest balancing act.
For 2022 at least, Tampa and Green Bay have done that. They had to, really. There is no sense in having older quarterbacks if you aren’t going for broke. And, conversely, there is no reason for Brady and Rodgers to continue playing unless they are on teams that have a real chance to win it all.
That was part of the motivation that led Brady out of New England and to the Bucs two years ago (he won the title) and Rodgers to play hard ball in every imaginable, and often passive-aggressive, way: to make the Packers bend to his vision.
They will be paid a lot of money, no doubt. But they aren’t doing this just for the money. They could have demanded more. Instead their cap hits for 2022 are more likely to help than Deshaun Watson’s ($40.4 million cap hit), Ryan Tannehill’s ($38.6 million) or Patrick Mahomes’ ($35.8 million).
For Green Bay, there is risk, of course. At some point the bill comes due, although when the NFL’s new media deals kick in the salary cap is expected to rise, blunting the impact.
The Packers also have to deal with the concept that Rodgers has, once again, all the power. It’s likely this deal gets restructured every year that Rodgers continues to play, which means he can continue with the soap opera of his future that back in 2020 he called a “beautiful mystery.”
That might seem like a headache, but know this: Since Rodgers began warring with management he has led the Packers to consecutive 13-win seasons and those MVPs. His play is better than ever. The playoffs have brought disappointment and home losses, including one to Brady, but Rodgers appears to be a guy who thrives in chaos and attention.
Letting it all play out will be a non-monetary cost for the Packers.
At least they can put some talent on the field that makes the Super Bowl a possibility. The same with Tampa Bay.
The old guys are back and, at least by salary cap standards, sort of a bargain.