The rebirth and regeneration that has blossomed from Drew Brees’ time in New Orleans has been among the most unprecedented in NFL history. The person, the franchise, and the city itself have been transformed since Drew Brees arrived in 2006. Brees came to New Orleans when both he and the city were broken. Brees recovering from a shoulder injury that threatened his career after his first choice, the Miami Dolphins, had turned down the chance to sign him. New Orleans was still grieving and on the long road to recovery from one of the worst disasters to strike American soil, Hurricane Katrina. The Saints themselves were coming off a 3-13 nomadic campaign playing games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge.
Given all that adversity, the success seen in New Orleans has been extraordinary. The six years Brees has spent in New Orleans would be shot down if you tried to sell it as a Hollywood script. Books have been written, tears of joy have been shed, records have been broken, and the team’s first ever championship was won in the 2009 season. New Orleans has embraced Brees and made him one of their own. The relationship between Drew Brees and New Orleans is perhaps the best between athlete and city in professional sports. Without each other, Drew Brees and the Saints would have never found the prosperity they have shared since 2006.
For diehard Saints fans like me, the last six years have been something of a sporting nirvana. We were used to disappointment. We were used to coaches calling our team “diddly poo” and our franchise saviors wearing wedding dresses. We wee used to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most improbable, depressing and comedic of ways. And, we were used to losing.
Since Drew Brees and Sean Payton joined forces in New Orleans, we’ve seen one of the best offenses in NFL history, an elite quarterback in his prime, the most thrilling games week in and week out, records all across the board, playoff appearances, division titles, a Super Bowl, and most unlikely of all – a winning mentality. Even with this year’s crushing playoff defeat in San Francisco, the Brees Era has been a never before seen time of pride and joy in being a Saints fan. The Brees Era has been the closest thing to perfection we know.
So why then can’t Drew Brees and the Saints agree on a new contract extension? And why are they putting the future of the franchise in jeopardy because of it?
First the specs – Brees is scheduled to be a free agent unless the two sides reach an agreement. Negotiating took place early in the 2011 season until they were broken off so Brees could focus on the field. All along, Brees has assured fans that a deal was going to get done. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll get a deal done,” is what he said last week… but it hasn’t happened yet. The Saints have until Monday, March 5 to sign Brees to a long term contract – that’s when the NFL’s deadline for placing the franchise tag is. If a contract isn’t signed, the Saints will be forced to place the franchise tag on Drew Brees.
And news hasn’t been encouraging on a long term deal happening. Adam Schefter reported this week that the sides remained far apart in negotiations, contrary to what Brees had said publicly and time is quickly running out. An offseason away from that March 5 deadline in September quickly became a couple months after Vernon Davis knocked the Saints out of the playoffs and now it has become a mere handful of days.
Then, Thursday, Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reported the two sides remained far apart because Saints GM Mickey Loomis sees Brees as just “very good” and not “great.” I doubt the report only because it is so preposterous in its lack of believability that an NFL GM could be so misguided. Very good? VERY GOOD? If it’s actually how Loomis and the Saints feel, it’s a complete lack of perspective and a total failure in running an NFL franchise. If it’s a tactical leak in negotations, it’s one of the most insulting ever. To consider Drew Brees merely very good is one of the most unconscionable statements I’ve ever seen. Tony Romo is very good. Drew Brees is an all-time great.
As fears rise about Brees’ long term security in New Orleans, his deal has a domino effect that is frightening for Saints fans. After a fortunate period of little roster turnover, the Saints are faced with several high profile free agents. All Pro guard Carl Nicks tops the list. Nicks will be entering his fifth year and has surpassed fellow All Pro Jahri Evans in many eyes as the best guard in football. Together, Brees and Nicks form the best guard duo in football.
Carl Nicks is Priority 1A behind Drew Brees. The Saints are built from the inside out and Brees always has a clean pocket to step into behind the triumvirate of Nicks, center Brian De La Puente, and Evans. That’s the foundation for the high flying, high scoring, record setting Saints offense. Even though New Orleans has found success with unheralded linemen (their starting five consists of no players drafted higher than Round 4), there aren’t players the caliber of Carl Nicks on the market. The Saints’ offensive success has always started with their superior line play giving Brees the platform he needs to succeed.
Wide receiver Marques Colston has developed into Brees’ top wide receiver in his six years in New Orleans. With so many weapons on the Saints offense, Colston often gets lost in the shuffle but make no mistake, his size, speed, and catching ability is unmatched in the Saints’ talented wide receiver corps. Colston has hit 1,000 yards in five of six seasons in New Orleans and is also a free agent. If the Saints lost Colston, they lose the most consistent and longest tenured target of Drew Brees.
Super Bowl XLIV hero Tracy Porter and former first round pick WR Robert Meachem are also set to be turned loose, although they are firmly in line behind Nicks and Colston as priorities for the Saints. Although they are important players, the Saints are fortunate to have young players at both positions ready to step into larger roles. Highly touted defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin are also free agents, but neither really matched the hope Saints fans had for them at the start of the season.
But the dominoes start with Brees. If the Saints have to franchise tag Brees, then it’s likely Colston and Nicks both walk and the Saints may lose all those vital pieces. If the Saints are able to secure a smart long term contract for Brees and the franchise, they may be able to tag Nicks, find enough money to sign Colston, and keep their core together. The stakes are that high in these negotiations.
The Saints took a different positive step in that direction with veteran DE Will Smith restructuring his contract Thursday. He was scheduled to make over $10 million in 2012, and it willl help the Saints have a few more dollars to throw at Meachem, Porter, and Colston. According to Mike Triplett at the Times-Picayune, the Saints were a projected $15 million under the salary cap before the Smith move, and should save $5 million in 2012. The Brees contract, however it breaks down, will obviously take up a huge chunk of that. That’s why it is imperative to get as cap friendly of a deal as possible with Brees without insulting him… not just with an eye towards this year’s pending free agents, but with an eye towards players like Jimmy Graham and Malcolm Jenkins that will eventually need to be re-signed as well.
Some damage might have already been done in these negotations though. If the Saints are really jerking Brees around like he’s an alsoran and not the franchise savior he has been, it will have a ripple effect for every player in that locker room and create immediate distrust in a franchise that has experienced harmony in recent years. If the Saints blow the Brees negotiations, they destroy much of the good will that has been built up with fans and take the franchise back to the dark ages of paper bags.
There is no more valuable player and person in the NFL than Drew Brees to his team. Deep down, the Saints know that and Drew Brees knows that. Both sides know they need to get a deal done before March 5th. Every player in that locker room, every coach, every front office worker, and every fan knows it too.
Truthfully, the contract shouldn’t be this complicated. It should have been finished a long time ago. Given that Brees has no statistical peer and no peer in his relationship to the community, he can make a strong case for being the highest paid player in the NFL. However the capologists are able to break down the numbers to help ease the salary cap pain, the Saints need let Brees name the price. He’s the greatest free agent signing in league history. He’s brought New Orleans a Super Bowl. He’s become a local icon. Statistically, he’s put together the best six year quarterbacking run in NFL history. He’s the best player in Saints history and he’s even built his own future bust in Canton.
All that may come tumbling down on March 5th. The clock is ticking.