Belichick on Brady: 'There's no quarterback I'd rather have'

Tom Brady walked into the New England Patriots' locker room, his hair fashionably combed over his forehead in a Justin Bieber style as a pair of jeans, pre-ripped and faded, hung neatly over the back of his chair.

Even when it looks messy, everything is in place for the Patriots and their biggest star.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP was back at practice Friday, one day after he followed an early morning car accident with a four-year, $72 million contract extension that will make him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

When it begins in 2011, the deal will pay him an average of $18 million per season. Brady's new deal includes $49 million guaranteed, but in essence, he is protected against injury in every year from the moment he steps on field, a league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.

"Nobody deserves it more, and I'm happy for him," Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said Friday. "I'm happy he's here, and I hope he's here for a long time."

Brady's extension, which had been in the works for months, was first reported by Sports Illustrated's Peter King during halftime of NBC's telecast of the Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints season opener. Brady, who will make $6.5 million this season in the final year of a six-year deal, declined to talk to reporters who approached him during Friday's media availability.

Brady hasn't spoken to reporters since the two-car collision near his Back Bay home in which the other driver was cited for failure to stop at a red light, but he did release a joint statement with Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Saturday regarding his new contract.

"I do want to express my appreciation to Mr. Kraft and Jonathan Kraft for extending my opportunity to play for the New England Patriots," Brady said. "I am grateful for all that the Kraft family has done for me, both personally and professionally, and for all they have done for my family. Not only have I had the good fortune of playing for just one franchise, I have also played for the greatest head coach and with some of the best teammates a player could ever ask for."

A 49-year-old passenger of the other car had to be freed with the Jaws of Life and was taken to a hospital. Brady was examined by emergency personnel at the scene, but he arrived at Gillette Stadium in time for a 10:45 a.m. walkthrough and afternoon practice in preparation for Sunday's opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

And most of the Patriots didn't want to talk about anything else.

"I'm really happy for Tom," offensive lineman Stephen Neal said, "but I'm concentrating on the Bengals right now."

Asked Friday morning if there were any deals to report, Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed at a loss. Reminded that Brady's deal was done, Belichick said, "Oh, yeah. I was thinking about player transactions."

"Look, there's no quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady," Belichick said. "He does a great job for us in all phases of the game. I think right now, Tom, myself and all the rest of us are trying to get ready for Cincinnati."

A sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2000, Brady inherited the starting job when Drew Bledsoe was injured in Week 3 of the 2001 season and led the Patriots to the first of their three Super Bowl titles in four years. After being named the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2007, when he threw for 4,806 yards and a league-record 50 touchdowns, Brady missed almost all of the '08 season after injuring his left knee in the opener.

Brady played through finger and rib injuries last year, but he threw for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns -- both second only to his record-setting '07 season in which the Patriots were 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl 17-14 to the New York Giants on a last-minute touchdown.

"Since he first arrived, no player has worked harder and been more driven to succeed than Tom," Kraft said in the statement. "His core values have kept him grounded, despite his many successes, and he remains a consummate professional, both on and off the field. It is much easier to reward a player for his professional accomplishments when you have such respect for him personally and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom and for everything he has accomplished in his life. There is no one that I would rather have leading this team and I am happy to reward him with this contract extension."

Also Friday, Brady was elected a team captain, along with running back Kevin Faulk, nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Welker said Brady's contract doesn't change his role with the team: a leader on the field, and the supermodel's husband who picks up the check at dinner off it.

"He's still the same Tom for us," said Welker, who spent the offseason recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. "We're still going to razz him and give him a hard time. I think he enjoys getting razzed and things like that. He's got some people who bring him back down to earth because his life is so extraordinary at times."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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