The Patriots need a couple million dollars in cap room, and with a Ty Law renegotiation highly unlikely, the most obvious source for the savings is quarterback Tom Brady, who has a $5.5 million salary, a portion of which could be guaranteed, paid as a bonus and prorated over the three years remaining on his deal.
But Brady holds some cards in that he just won his second Super Bowl MVP award in three years as a starter and then watched Peyton Manning land a $34 million signing bonus in a new contract. So if the team comes calling, Brady could play hardball and try to land a lucrative new deal approaching Manning's rather than simply accept some of his 2004 salary as a bonus.
There is no way the Patriots would throw Manning money at Brady and it's not because Brady is unworthy of top-quarterback cash, but rather because it's a virtual certainty that New England views Manning's contract as terrible for his team's well-being and future.
The Colts need a new stadium and could ill-afford to lose their marquee player, but the Patriots operate with financial discipline under a share-the-wealth mentality that sees more than 20 players with cap numbers exceeding $1 million rather than just a few players accounting for a huge percentage of the cap.
Panthers Super Bowl quarterback Jake Delhomme recently inked a five-year extension worth $35 million that included a $6.1 million signing bonus that more closely resembles the deal Brady signed after leading the Patriots to their first Super Bowl in 2001. But now Brady is worth much more than that and could lower his cap numbers over the next couple of seasons with a new extension.
The Patriots' leverage in negotiating with Brady is that he has three seasons left on his current deal. It might be realistic to expect the Patriots to give Brady a $20 million tiered bonus in an extension. New England certainly can't let the deal the Colts gave Manning set the bar for its quarterback.
Another contract issue that is upcoming is that of left tackle Matt Light, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Light's contract is not a priority because he cannot offer the team any cap savings with an extension, but his negotiations could get hairy.
Light is a middle-of-the-pack left tackle, but even those types of left tackles are garnering signing bonuses in the $10 million range as Green Bay's Chad Clifton did. But don't expect the Patriots to be held hostage by Light's demands either. They will set a value and let him walk if he exceeds it.
New England offered guard/center Damien Woody a signing bonus in excess of $6 million so it is reasonable to thing it would exceed that offer in a deal for its starting left tackle. Light is represented by the same firm as Woody, but Jim Steiner is his agent rather than Ben Dogra, who has never had a free agent re-sign with his club.
Light could realistically get $10 million-plus in bonus money, but would more likely have top accept over a two to three year period.