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Original Issue

The Case for ... Tom Brady

In November 2005, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED dispatched me to Cincinnati to cover a Colts-Bengals game. As I was walking up to the stadium that Sunday, my phone rang. It was Terry McDonell, the magazine's managing editor. He was in the middle of a weighty decision: whom to pick as our Sportsman of the Year. I'd written to him with a nomination, as many staff members do each year. My suggestion was New England quarterback Tom Brady, who, in the wake of his third Super Bowl title that February, had given the Patriots a major hometown discount on his new contract—with the proviso that they spend the money they saved in his deal on other players to keep the team competitive. The Patriots were struggling that season; they'd been on a win-one-lose-one streak and were just 5--4 entering that weekend. McDonell had a tough call. All I said to him was: This is as much about unselfishness as it is about winning. You don't see that very much anymore in sports. McDonell picked Brady.

History repeated itself late Monday afternoon when the Patriots filed a contract extension for Brady—at 35, still in his prime—that is due to pay him $27 million over three additional seasons, 2015, '16 and '17. That $9 million-per-year average is a steep markdown from his market value. Brady has always said he wanted to play until he was 40. Well, he'll turn 40 a month before the start of the 2017 season. There's no saying he can't redo the deal if he's still Brady the Great in 2015 and beyond. But the upshot for now is simple: For the second time in his career, Brady has given his employers an assist to keep the team competitive.

Nobody should turn Brady into Mother Teresa. His wife, Gisele Bundchen, is a multimillionaire in her own right, and his endorsement income is, well, as handsome as he is. But the point is, players don't do this. They just don't. Drew Brees is rich too, but he squeezed every dime out of the Saints last year—as does most every player in sports when they have leverage. Part of Brady's legacy when he retires should be this, as corny as it sounds: He was a team player on the field and at the negotiating table. That, certainly, will distinguish him from his alltime peers.

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He has given the Patriots another assist to stay competitive. Players just don't do this.