In the NFL, the only real guarantee is a signing bonus. And while some players (like Jets receiver Santonio Holmes and his new BFF, quarterback Mark Sanchez) have guaranteed base salaries two seasons into the future, most player contracts remain year-to-year propositions.
Even at the top of the food chain.
As explained last week, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will make $18 million in 2012. The Broncos can bail out for any reason and owe him nothing more before the final day of the current league year. (The Broncos thereafter would be on the hook for $40 million over the next two years, unless Manning suffers a neck injury in 2013.)
In dropping his 2012 cap number from $15.2 million to $8 million, Brady received $10.8 million to sign and a reduced, but fully guaranteed, base salary of $950,000. But he has no guarantees beyond that.
The Patriots can release Brady without consequence at any time before the fifth day of the 2013 league year. If they don’t, his $9.75 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed. (He also is due to receive a $5 million roster bonus on June 15, and a $250,000 workout bonus.)
Then, if Brady is on the roster for the last game of the 2013 season, his base salary of $9.75 million for 2014 becomes fully guaranteed.
It’s highly unlikely that the Patriots will be parting ways with Brady at any point over the next two seasons. The point is that even Brady isn’t immune to the year-to-year reality of life in the NFL, where the teams hold the cards and the player can be left holding the bag.
That said, Brady still has some real leverage. With a cap number of $21.8 million in 2013 and 2014, the only way to get relief in either of the following two seasons will be to extend his contract, which will mean another large chunk of money up front.