As a decision at quarterback looms, the New York Jets can take a lesson from Dak Prescott’s new contract and Tom Brady’s restructures.
Tom Brady has taught, or has at least attempted to teach, the New York Jets countless lessons over the past two decades. As Brady plans to extend his career even further, the Jets can probably stand to take one more as light begins to flicker at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding.
Just over a month after he helped bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay…and a seventh ring to his finger…Brady is already laying down the blueprints for another. According to a report from Josina Anderson, the thrower whose “GOAT” label is becoming less debatable with each passing day and the Buccaneers are restructuring the two-year, $50 million deal bestowed to him last spring.
The plan is to open up enough cap space to keep the other key contributors from the recently wrapped Super Bowl run. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, and Leonard Fournette are among the champions set to hit the market, while receiver Charles Godwin was franchise tagged.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Brady, 44, would adjust his contract to prolong a potential dynasty. In 2014, negotiations with the New England Patriots netted $24 million in cap space that played a role in three additional Super Bowl visits (two wins).
As things currently stand, Brady is the 16th-highest-paid quarterback in football. It’s probably the one quarterback list where he doesn’t appear in the top ten.
“When he restructures his deal, he’s getting a big bundle of cash up-front. But it is helping us create cap room,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said of a prior restructure in 2012, per Mike Reiss of ESPN. “We are in the business of quality depth management,” Kraft said. “It’s a physical game and you have injuries, and you need depth on your team.”
The Brady situation is a direct contrast to the ongoing passing situation in Dallas. Dak Prescott is now the second-highest paid quarterback in football at the end of a two-year game of chicken between him and Cowboys management. He’ll make $40 million in each of the next four seasons, a price tag bested only by Patrick Mahomes’ seemingly eternal deal in Kansas City.
It’s great to see a high-character, high-ceiling athlete like Prescott get a good deal, but it’s not the transaction that’s going to bring an elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy to the metroplex. With the signing of Prescott, the Cowboys bare sit above the cap, now working with less than $1 million of space. It could necessitate some painful cuts in the coming future…some say talented blocker Tyron Smith could be a part of that, for example.
Prescott’s deal should not be seen as greed on his part, but rather getting what’s necessary for the Cowboys to merely remain relevant. Some have grilled Prescott for a lack of postseason success, but it’s clear he has the skills to be a game-changing NFL quarterback. Dallas had a taste of life without Prescott when he was lost for the season with an ankle injury after five games. A cursed quarterback hydra of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert mustered a 4-7 mark in Prescott’s absence. Through four seasons as a full-time starter, Prescott has yet to post a losing record with a star on his helmet.
What do these situations have to do with the Jets? They should avoid a similar predicament in all circumstances.
Unlike the Buccaneers and Cowboys, the Jets’ quarterback future is anything but settled. The only thing anyone knows about the situation is the unspoken guarantee that it will all be over no later than the evening of April 29, the first round of the NFL Draft. Just over a month of relative chaos, however, awaits on the horizon.
The Jets have enough stress with an NFL equivalent of a first-world problem: deciding what to do with the second overall pick. But it seems like every elite, disgruntled, veteran quarterback wants in on what Robert Saleh has to offer, as rumors have linked Deshaun Watson ($39 million in 2021) and Russell Wilson ($35 million) to a green future. Watson and Wilson respectively rank third and fourth in terms of the best-paid quarterbacks, but the Jets, blessed with a cap space number in the area of $70 million that’s been talked about endlessly in the NYC area, are one of the few teams that can perhaps afford to take on such a financial burden.
Tantalizing as such a union would be, however, the cases of Brady and Prescott dictate that the Jets would be best off starting fresh with a rookie contract.
There’s a sense of “when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose” with the Jets, which can allow them to play with a sense of reckless abandon under a first-time head coach seeking an identity. With so many holes to fill and so many established contenders in the AFC, ending their postseason drought still seems like a tall task. But progress must be made in this perpetual rebuild, particularly in the franchise quarterback role that’s felt vacant since Joe Namath left Shea Stadium for the final time.
For the Jets to do that, they need to fill as many holes as possible and settle as many of their affairs as they can…similar to what Brady’s doing in Tampa Bay. Save for the front four and one of the tackle slots…which appear set to be anchored by the talents of Quinnen Williams and Mekhi Becton respectively…the Jets face uncertainty at almost every spot on the depth chart. Thus, the Jets are not in a position to dedicate most of their offseason funds, no matter how expansive their surplus becomes, to a Prescott-like situation.
It’s better, at this point, to follow the Brady method and restructure around a quarterback that’s not among the highest-paid names in football. Even if they wanted to even extend Sam Darnold’s fifth-year option (currently valued at circa $18 million, per Over the Cap), that would be a better, more affordable trek on which to embark.
When you accumulate a 30-8 record against the Jets in your NFL career, you tend to teach the metropolitan area a lesson or two. With Brady taking on less to ensure his reign lasts even longer, finally heeding and emulating his example…even in mere roster management…can help finally end the perpetual rebuild.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags