Drew Bledsoe has long stated his desire to stay in New England. That desire was met Wednesday with a 10-year, $103 million contract extension for the quarterback.
The deal is a nine-year extension of Bledsoe's current deal and it includes a savings of $1.3 million against the Patriots salary cap for the 2001 season. Bledsoe's cap hit now stands at $8.5 million, down from the $9.8 hit he was scheduled for.
That cap relief will help the Patriots play a bigger role on the current free agent market, a major factor in the timing of the deal. Team Owner Robert Kraft, who contacted Bledsoe in Montana last weekend to get the ball rolling on negotiations, credited the quarterback and agent David Dunn for working with Chief Operating Officer Andy Wasynczuk for getting the deal completed.
"I think Drew had told [Dunn] how important it was for us to get a new deal done for our cap and for getting our future moving forward," Kraft said. "We wanted to solidify this as soon as possible so we would have an opportunity to look at the free agent market. I must say that David and the entire agency have worked with us to get this deal done.
"If we didn't bring this to closure, I think we would have hurt the New England Patriots ability to win football games in the future. If we couldn't plan, we wouldn't know how to allocate our resources."
Bledsoe will receive $8 million up front. The deal also includes injury insurance that guarantees Bledsoe $6 million over the first three years of the contract. He will get $2 million each year for the first three years on top of the salary, making his total guaranteed money $14 million over the first three years of the contract.
With the extension, the Patriots bought flexibility for how they handle Bledsoe's future. The team holds three contract options that will help them spread Bledsoe's money as they see fit.
The first option comes after the first year of the extension, at which time the team can secure all 10 years of the deal by paying a $7.2 million bonus. The salary cap implications make this option very unlikely to be exercised.
The second option for the team comes after the fourth year, when the Patriots can buy years 5-7 of the deal for a $7 million bonus. Finally, the team also holds an option to buy years 8-10 for an $8 million bonus.
If the Patriots did exercise the first option, they would not have to pay the bonus money in the second two options. However, that is an unlikely scenario because if Bledsoe's career were cut short for any reason, the salary cap ramifications would strap the team financially.
"I have expressed over and over again through the years my desire to play my entire career for the New England Patriots organization," Bledsoe said. "I'm excited today with this contract that it looks like a very real possibility for me to play my entire career with a great organization."
Though the thought had crossed his mind occasionally, Bledsoe never gave serious consideration to the notion of playing for another team.
"It was never a realistic thought process," Bledsoe said. "I recognize how blessed I am to be in this situation. Was it ever a realistic possibility in my mind? No, it wasn't."
With the new deal, Bledsoe's main goals remain unchanged. As he has said since coming to the team as the top overall pick of the 1993 draft, Bledsoe stated his primary focus is to bring a Super Bowl championship to New England. Kraft said Bledsoe could have tried to break the bank with his next contract, but a team-first attitude enable a reasonable agreement to be reached.
"It's clear to me that if Drew had waited, and he had wanted to go test free agency, he probably could have gotten a lot more money than he is getting from us," Kraft said. "He is committed to this team; he is committed to winning."
Head Coach Bill Belichick said having the team's quarterback in place for the long-term was a huge relief.
"As a coach, it's very important to know that your key players are going to be with you for a while," Belichick said. "We want to develop a strong franchise here for the long term, and it is great to look forward knowing that Drew is committed here for a long time. That makes things a lot easier for our planning and for the stability of the team."
That stability made Bledsoe extremely pleased to be a part of the long-term future for the Patriots and the Kraft family.
"The No. 1 reason I have stated over and over again that I want to be here for the long haul is because I believe in the organization itself," Bledsoe said. "That starts at the top. We have probably the best owner in the National Football League. He has a great staff around him with Coach Belichick.
"On top of that, we do have some roots in the area. We've built a home here, and this is an area that I've really come to enjoy. That's important to me, but that is secondary to my belief in the organization."