Tom Brady will retire. Someday.
When he does, he won’t be going very far: Fox Sports announced Tuesday and Brady confirmed on social media that the quarterback has agreed to a contract with the network that will make him the network’s top analyst for its package of NFL games.
And via the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, the contract isn’t just a record-setter, it’s a game-changer for the industry. Brady’s deal is reportedly for 10 years and $ 375 million, the largest ever for a television sports analyst. His $ 37.5 million annual average doubles what Tony Romo previously agreed to with CBS and what Troy Aikman recently agreed to with ESPN.
It’s also more than what Brady earned in his first 20-plus years as an NFL player.
It’s a stunning number, but ultimately understandable given that it was going to take a lot to get Brady to commit to the hours of preparation and travel being in the booth every week requires. Networks have been trying for years to get Peyton Manning to make this kind of move, and either no one has offered this kind of money or Manning really has no interest.
The announcement felt like it came out of nowhere, with Brady seemingly focused on several other post-retirement interests for the past few years. Especially for someone like me, who covered Brady for almost a decade and never got the sense that he had any interest in broadcasting – and wasn’t exactly candid in front of a microphone. Brady has admitted he rarely says what he feels in public settings and is “super flat” in interviews on purpose, which is understandable to an extent.
But that experience was with New England Brady, not Tampa Tom.
New England Brady had to be the arbiter of the locker room and Bill Belichick’s way of doing things, which is generally to be as bland as plain oatmeal when asked questions by reporters just trying to do their jobs and provide information to the fan base.
Tampa Tom day drinks tequila before a floating Super Bowl parade and throws the Lombardi Trophy from his boat to teammates on another boat.
So maybe there’s a distinction.
Brady will have to bring some Tampa Tom to the booth with him. We all know he can read the field, and viewers like to be educated. But what made John Madden beloved was the way he passed along that knowledge – in a fun, endearing, everyman way.
Right now, no one thinks of Brady as an everyman. He doesn’t really present himself that way, even if he’s often talked about being the worst athlete in his house. And we all know the path he took in football, from bench QB on a winless junior varsity squad, to a lightly regarded college prospect to someone who shared time with Drew Henson even when he was clearly the better player, to the 199th overall pick and No. 4 on the Patriots depth chart as a rookie to Drew Bledsoe’s near-death experience at the hands of Mo Lewis.
Brady is married to one of the most glamorous women on the planet; owns property in multiple states; advocates a diet that some monks would find limiting; and by and large is considered the greatest player at his position ever, if not the greatest football player ever, period. Very few Fox Sports viewers have much in common with him. Heck, a lot of NFL fans don’t even like him that much, whether it’s because of his long association with Belichick, their belief he was the mastermind behind manipulating the air pressure in footballs, or just because he has won so much and ended their favorite team’s season early.
He can be self-deprecating and he’s known for being welcoming to every new player that enters the locker room, greeting them with an extended hand and “Hi, I’m Tom.”
Will that translate to viewers? Does Fox care?
It’s not just whether Brady can convey warmth, humor or personality. It’s also if he can translate what he knows and sees in a way that makes sense for others. Many of us may remember a math-whiz high school classmate who breezed through their assignments but couldn’t help a peer who asked for help. Understanding is one thing, but teaching what you understand is another. It’s also whether he’ll be willing to be critical when it’s warranted, or be like Jon Gruden and never say anything negative even when it was clear someone was playing badly or had made a suspect coaching decision.
One other thing to wonder, and it’s not specific to Brady: Is anyone watching NFL games because of who is broadcasting them? When the season finally comes and he has moved from playing to broadcasting, after the first two or three games, when we’ll all be tuned in to see if he’s good, is anyone going to watch Fox’s top game because of Brady? Is anyone going to watch an otherwise unappealing Monday night matchup because Aikman and Joe Buck are on the call?
Tony Romo gained quick fame and some quick pay raises because of his Romo-damus prognostication of play calls, but whether it’s because he has lost that new-announcer shine or his act has worn thin, last fall it seemed the online love had dulled for him. (Stupid sexist comments can’t help.)
Fox already has one analyst who apparently has quite a bit of fortune-telling ability and personality in one of Brady’s former teammates, Aqib Talib, though Talib appears to remain relegated to third string with the network. Perhaps if he had the name recognition of Brady he’d get to move up the ladder.
We assume that Brady has done screen tests for Fox at some point for it to commit this kind of money, and that there’s not a fear he will be like his childhood hero, Joe Montana, who so disliked being a TV analyst he quit after nine games.
Brady will retire from playing someday, and Fox has already gotten him to commit to a new career with a ground-shifting deal. The network is betting we’ll all be watching to see if it works out.