It is no wonder that contract talks between the New England Patriots and quarterback Drew Bledsoe took so long to complete. After months and perhaps more than a year of negotiating, the two sides finally came to terms with what can only be described as a contract that is difficult to decipher, but saves the team $1.3 million in cap space for 2001.
That savings is minimal compared to quarterback restructures that normally take place where the player's base salary is reduced to the league minimum for a huge savings early, but with numbers that become astronomical later in the pact. The Patriots chose not to go that route, which becomes like shopping on a credit card with a buy-now-pay-later mentality. The result is that Bledsoe's salary cap number was reduced from $9.8 million to about $8.5 for 2001. That number will actually fall to just more than $7 million in 2002 before climbing up close to $10 million by the fourth year.
The overall numbers, 10 years, $103 million, are for show and essentially meaningless. And according to Patriots Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Andy Wasynczuk, the deal falls short of the actual value of Brett Favre's recently agreed upon contract meaning Bledsoe is not the league's highest paid quarterback.
In fact, the only part of the contract that Bledsoe is basically guaranteed is a four-year portion worth just more than $30 million, a deal similar to that of Favre, who reportedly received $10 million up front.
Bledsoe will receive $8 million up front on an option that gives the team the quarterback's rights for four years. Bledsoe also has $6 million in guaranteed injury insurance over the first three years of the contract that are included in his base pay, which climbs from $3.5 million to $8 million in the first four years.
The team has several options throughout the life of the contract. After year one of the deal, the team could pick up an option for the entire 10 years by paying Bledsoe an additional $7.2 million bonus. That bonus amount also is prorated through 2006 (the year the current collective bargaining agreement expires) and factored in to his current cap number, but it is unlikely that the team would pick up that option for the full 10 years after one season.
The next option decision for the team comes on Nov. 1 2004. That is when the team must decide to pick up the option on years 5-7 at which time it would pay Bledsoe another $7 million bonus. But note that if the CBA is extended before that time, the proration of that bonus could conceivably be spread beyond 2006.
If the team picked up that option, Bledsoe's cap number would climb into double figures during year four of the deal and then climb to upwards of $12 million. At that point, the two sides could restructuure the deal, something Dunn indicated was common after even three years of a franchise quarterback's contract. He also pointed out the unusual circumstances around the pact Bledsoe signed in 1995 because it actually got through six years before a renegotiation was agreed upon.
Under the actual terms of the deal just signed, the team also holds an option in year seven in which it can buy years 8-10 with an $8 million bonus. That decision will never have to be made because the contract will never reach that point. Bledsoe will either be gone by then or will have restructured the contract. The team also has the option to secure the entire 10 years of the deal at any of the designated option decision times.
So the deal actually involves a four-year contract with no less than $14 million guaranteed and a total value of just more than $30 million. Bledsoe will be 32 when the team must decide to pick up additional years. His level of play in conjunction with the team's success between now and November 2004 will dictate its course of action, but it seems very likely that the first seven years of this contract could be played out, taking the relationship between the Patriots and Bledsoe through the at least the 2007 season.