Opinion: For wannabe QB GMs who want to be more like Tom Brady, be careful what you ask for

Nate Davis

Memo to the NFL's disquieted quarterbacks: If you want to be more like Tom Brady, then try being ... a little more like Tom Brady.

TB12 is obviously on a singular (if elevating) pedestal, fresh off winning a seventh Super Bowl title – meaning he's now collected more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise in the league. And Brady also had a significant hand in putting together his sterling band of Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, recruiting key contributors like longtime New England teammate Rob Gronkowski, fleeting Patriots teammate Antonio Brown and Jaguars castoff Leonard Fournette.

Seems Brady is not only still a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback at 43, he's a pretty good assistant general manager. That doesn't mean his peers – to the extent he has any from an accomplishment or age perspective – should feel similarly emboldened.

However Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has still never earned a single MVP vote, proclaimed just last week that he wants input on the roster-building process.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3) and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers are both still in search of their second Super Bowl ring.

“I want to be able to be involved because at the end of the day, it’s your legacy, it’s your team’s legacy, it’s the guys you get to go into the huddle with and at the end of the day, those guys you’ve got to trust,” he told The Dan Patrick Show last week.

“I think if you ask guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, you know, even Tom, you know, I think that you saw this year how much he was involved in the process – I think that’s something that is important to me.”

Seems like a good time to remind Russ and any other Brady wannabes that, before you start crooning "If I could Be Like Tom," this is what it actually entails to be like Brady.


Wilson, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Texans' Deshaun Watson have combined for two titles – which is the same number Brady had ... when he was 26.

Give Wilson credit: He's never quarterbacked a losing team in the NFL, and Seattle has reached the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons. Yet he's also never taken the Seahawks past the divisional round since the 2014 season, when his ill-fated goal-line interception in Super Bowl 49 ruined the franchise's repeat bid.

Watson wants out of Houston – and, admittedly, who can really blame him? But in a vacuum, a 25-year-old with one playoff win requesting input on franchise-shaping hiring decisions is a pretty big ask. Still, in Watson's case, the Texans doubtless would have been better off listening to him than others within the organization.

SUPER BOWL BREAKTHROUGH:Which of NFL's 12 title-starved teams is closest to Lombardi Trophy?

FINAL 2020 POWER RANKINGS:Buccaneers are No. 1, but who's next?

WHERE WILL J.J. WATT GO?:These 10 NFL teams could be fits

As for Rodgers, since largely carrying Green Bay to the Super Bowl 45 crown to cap the 2010 season, he's won three league MVP awards in spectacular fashion but also come up short in all four of his NFC championship game appearances over the same stretch. He hasn't been as explicit as Wilson in expressing a desire to help the front office obtain players

But he also hasn't been shy about (justifiably) voicing reservations about last year's first-round pick spent on quarterback Jordan Love – a presumed Rodgers successor and not a player that could help the 2020 MVP win in 2020 – noting that players (and friends) like Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Corey Linsley are unsigned for 2021 or that "You can only control what you can control" ... which in Rodgers' case means he doesn't have all that much beyond the field.

It should also be noted that – as it pertains to Rodgers, Watson and Wilson – each of their most significant NFL victories occurred when they were playing on rookie contracts or, in Rodgers' case, a below-market one signed shortly after he became the Packers' starter in 2008. 

Which brings me to my next point ...

Don't negotiate for every last dollar

Brady probably could have reset the quarterback pay scale multiple times over the course of his 21-year career. But he hasn't, consistently opting for (relatively) modest deals that have allowed the Patriots and Bucs to keep cash in reserve to pay his supporting cast. 

"You can only spend so much, and the more that one guy gets is less for others," Brady told Jimmy Kimmel two years ago. "(From) a competitive advantage standpoint, I like to get a lot of good players around me."

Yet, since 2018 alone, Rodgers and Wilson have both been perched as the NFL's highest-paid player, in terms of average annual salary, at various times. When Watson's $39 million-per-year extension kicks in next year, he'll trail only Patrick Mahomes. Watson, Wilson and Rodgers will be the only players behind Mahomes – and his 10-year arrangement provides him and the Chiefs significant payroll flexibility – on the average compensation pay scale once Ben Roethlisberger's anticipated renegotiation occurs in the near-term future.

Brady's average pay ($25 million) in 2020 and 2021 ranks 14th among quarterbacks.

The salary-capped NFL is a zero-sum game, fellas. The more cheddar you take, the less that's available for the other guys. Getting the biggest bag possible might be good for your family while also helping other players negotiating contracts elsewhere to earn every nickel they can. But this approach doesn't leave much room to bring that needed pass rusher, red-zone threat or bodyguard that your team desperately needs to get over the hump.

Wilson is "frustrated I’m getting hit too much" after getting sacked 394 times in his career. Welp. Learn to throw the ball away on occasion, Russ, rather than extend every play. Or maybe renegotiate to free up funds if you want more topflight blockers in front of you than just left tackle Duane Brown.

Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (81) lived with QB Tom Brady after signing with Tampa Bay.

Be careful what you wish for

I spent a good chunk of Super Bowl week asking people for their impressions of Brady beyond his records and his rings. Generally, the common denominators of the responses I got were that he's basically just one of the guys but also unfailingly committed to making himself and his teammates better. 

And when was the last time you remember Brady pointing a finger or imploring his front office for more help? Win, and he shares the credit publicly. Lose, and he accepts the blame publicly. 

Wilson, who's earned deserved accolades over the course of his career – most recently the league's prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award – isn't one who's going to bear the "one of the guys" label. (And that doesn't get easier when you're married to Ciara or making "Mr. Unlimited" videos.)

But whether it's Wilson, Rodgers or Watson, seeking personnel input – and each lacks Brady's bulletproof NFL résumé or deft way of generally keeping his roster suggestions behind closed doors – is a slippery slope. It's easy for quarterbacks to play a decade or more, but can they objectively take a franchise's long-term outlook into account while trying to win in the short run with a bunch of teammates whose careers average three years? 

How much does a QB care about the salary cap two years from now? What happens when one of his personnel suggestions backfires? What happens when the locker room starts to break down when some players know they're backed by the quarterback and others know he's maneuvering against them?

It's rare enough when an NFL coach can step back and see his own team's big picture in stark relief from an executive standpoint ... right, Bill O'Brien? Quarterbacks without "TB" in their initials should be especially careful about overreaching until they've consistently mastered the 100 yards in front of them.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders. Do the right thing, sign up now!