New England Patriots fans rejoice. Tom Brady has apparently added a two-year extension to his current contract, putting the quarterback essentially under team control until he is 42 years old. That should probably be considered the end of his career — although Brady wants to play five more seasons. Even if Brady does plan to play beyond 42, he might do so at a team-friendly deal because Brady staying with the Patriots is essential to his personal brand on and off the field. The closest comparison to Brady is Derek Jeter.
There is something to say for continuity in branding. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will forever be connected, and it’s good for Bryant that he never forced a trade seven years ago. Derek Jeter probably could have been a DH for Tampa Bay but decided to retire a Yankees shortstop. Jeter knew the importance of his connection with the Yankees and how it would impact everything he decided to do after he was done playing baseball. Likewise, Brady’s brand will be stronger if he pulls an Elway instead of a Montana.
This isn’t the case for all athletes. Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky are examples of being historically great in terms of both their performance on the field and as endorsers off the field. They all switched teams at some point in their careers. It just wouldn’t play into Brady’s brand. He’s been associated with a certain style of winning, a certain team, and will be respected for his performance on the field, even if he is despised by a certain segment of fans.
Jeter has been able to seamlessly transition from his on-field career to his current situation because he decided that $10 million extra to serve as DH for Tampa Bay — or any other team — wasn’t in his best interest. The Players Tribune — founded by Jeter — is a reflection of how Jeter managed his brand throughout his career. For some reason it wouldn’t have the same gravitas if Jeter ended his career differently. Staying with the Yankees was huge part of that, much as Brady should stay with the Patriots.
It all depends on what Brady has as goals post-football. One thing is for certain, Brady has given the Patriots discounts and salary relief at every turn. He hasn’t held out or demanded to be the highest paid QB in the league. Some of that could be because he just wants to win. It could also be because he is playing the long game. His brand relies on championships and consistency. The Patriots offer that to him every year.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.