By: Bob George/
May 09, 2005

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Okay, Bridget, top this.

On the field, very few, if any, can top what Tom Brady has done since assuming the role of Patriot starting quarterback back in September of 2001. The Patriots are now the model franchise in all sports, they have a chance in 2005 to win a record third straight Super Bowl, and Mo Lewis is welcome at any greater Boston speaking engagement which needs a football spokesperson. Just four years, and Brady might possibly be right up there with Bird, Orr and Williams in local stature, though it is still a bit early for that sort of pedestal.

And it's become more than just that. How many Boston sports personalities have hosted Saturday Night Live? You might have to go back to Tony Conigliaro to find a starlet magnet (remember Mamie Van Doren?) of this stature. Who knows, you might be addressing the Patriot quarterback as Senator Tom Brady someday (ask Jack Kemp, those things sometimes happen to ex-quarterbacks).

On Saturday, Brady finally got his due financial reward from the only NFL team he has ever known. The former Michigan quarterback who could never completely shake off Drew Henson for the starting job at The Big House at Main and Stadium became an incredibly rich man, with one of the most lucrative deals in the league today. After several months of negotiating and wondering if a big deal could ever get done, it finally did. Brady will be a Patriot at least through the 2010 season.

Many Patriot fans were both dumbstruck and horrified at the unbelievable contract Peyton Manning signed last year, thinking that he would set the market for Brady. According to the Boston Globe, Brady's signing bonus ($14.5 million this year, $12 million next year) is significantly lower than Manning's ($34.5 million), as is the total package (six years, $60 million for Brady versus ten years, $98 million for Manning). But unlike Manning, Brady was willing to put the best interest of the team first and take somewhat less to help ease the burden on the salary cap.

And more easing may be in the future. According to, Brady's cap hit would be about $8 million in 2005, but over $14 million in 2006. This is where the two-tiered signing bonus may come into play, as that second signing bonus of $12 million, called an "option bonus”, could be converted into a signing bonus and then prorated over the next few years.

There is no question that the Brady signing is huge news for the Patriots. But debates will rage on and on as to "who is the most valuable Patriot”. While the very essence of being a Patriot is to downplay and de-emphasize such talk, some folks are going to bring this up and wonder who would be like without who on the team. It sort of begins with Bill Parcells without Bill Belichick, and it sprouts from there.

What if Scott Pioli leaves. What will Belichick be like without Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. At least the "what would Belichick be like without Brady” deal is no longer an issue, at least for the next six years. If Brady is truly the "least expendable Patriot”, then Saturday was a red-letter day for the franchise. If it is indeed Brady who is the sole linchpin for one of the most remarkable runs of prosperity in the history of the NFL, the Patriots have a bargain with what they're paying Brady.

Perhaps he is the king, though most fans don't even want to broach the subject. There are hundreds of other factors which can prove or disprove Brady being the top gun, but both Belichick and Pioli were there before Brady, and if you look at Belichick's entire career in Foxborough, you see a clear line of demarcation following Lewis' hit on Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of 2001 and Brady taking over as starter the following week against Indianapolis. Brady has since won three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs, and is a perfect 9-0 in the postseason.

But it was Pioli who helped assemble his cast of characters. And it was Belichick who made the decision to keep Brady and run Bledsoe out of town, as well as implementing a system which drives veterans to play for less money in return for lots of wins and rings. How well would Brady do as an Arizona Cardinal? Or a Detroit Lion?

It would perhaps be better to look at the Celtic dynasty for a better comparison. Like Brady, the advent of Bill Russell was what sent the Celtics off on an 11-of-13 year championship run from 1957 to 1969. But Russell himself will praise Red Auerbach for putting the whole thing together, for helping define "what it means to be a Celtic”, and his unabashed love for his teammates and what they all meant to the team. You could sit back and say "it was all because of Russell”, but like Brady with the Patriots, you would be wrong. Great as Russell was, he still needed his team as much as his team needed him. Same goes for Brady.

But that is not to diminish the greatness of Brady, nor his unbelievable talent. His ability to remain calm under pressure, make reasoned decisions that are usually correct in very short amounts of time, and who conducts himself impeccably in public (his comedy career notwithstanding), those are elements which define Brady and why many experts believe he is the best quarterback in the game today. He fits the cerebral Patriot ideal perfectly, he has a model work ethic, and he is as humble as Michigan Stadium is big.

An even bigger defining element of Brady is his willingness to not insist on Manning money. Why shouldn't Brady insist on being paid more than Manning, whom Brady has never lost against in his career despite the legendary numbers the Colt quarterback put up last year? Brady knows better than Manning about the importance of salary cap management, as well as the importance of being able to finance a complete team rather than his lifetime financial security. Corey Dillon took a huge pay cut to be able to play for the Patriots in 2004, and in one fell swoop completely changed the way people perceive him in general. Brady is perfectly in line with this sort of financial philosophy, though not to the extreme degree of Dillon.

The Brady signing further reinforces the strong corporate mindset of the Patriots. Whether this will translate into the same kind of deal down the road for Richard Seymour (who is grossly underpaid and wound up firing his original agent), David Givens, Deion Branch, Eugene Wilson, and other guys who will want a big upgrade from their earlier deals remains to be seen, but Brady's deal "sets the market” for these guys, to some extent. Extrapolated to the earning power for their respective positions, and if the club decides they want these guys to hang around for several years, all young players looking for a big score on their second long-term contract need to heed Brady and what he has done to try and keep the Patriots financially able to remain on top.

Brady finally got his big payday. Under any circumstances, he got a king's ransom. If Bridget Moynahan is truly his forever girl, he can now buy her a huge rock. She might even consider being like Janet Jones Gretzky and retire from acting to raise a family, who knows. Tom won't have any trouble providing for her and their offspring.

As for providing for the Patriots, good times will continue to roll in Foxborough for many more years. Can't complain.