Brian Allee-Walsh

How long can Saints live with ‘house rich, cash poor’ business model?

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. At 37, Brees’skills do not appear diminished; he led the NFL in yards passing last season. He also is highly motivated because he is entering the final season of his contract.
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. At 37, Brees’skills do not appear diminished; he led the NFL in yards passing last season. He also is highly motivated because he is entering the final season of his contract. AP

You've heard the expression: "House Rich, Cash Poor.''

That describes the New Orleans Saints' current salary cap situation, even if GM Mickey Loomis doesn't succumb to mounting pressure and extend the contract of 37-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, who reportedly is seeking a new four-year, $100 million deal.

According to Brees' wishes, the two sides must reach agreement before the Saints open the season at noon Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or he'll play out the final year of his current five-year, $100 million deal and probably test free agency in the offseason.

"House Rich, Cash Poor.''

As it applies to the NFL, it means the Saints have a top-shelf quarterback who currently commands approximately 20 percent ($30 million) of the team's overall salary cap, leaving the organization with little wiggle room to make the necessary upgrades to contend for Super Bowl riches.

Let me be perfectly clear about several things:

  • Brees is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Period. End of story.
  • The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and even a middle tier quarterback these days, with no skins on the wall, commands upwards of $12 to $15 million per year. Thus, Brees deserves every penny he and his agent Tom Condon can extract from the Saints organization, or any other organization should it come to that.
  • Critics suggest Brees is greedy, that he should offer the Saints a "hometown discount.'' Poppycock! Don't blame Brees for the team's cap problems. Lay the cap problems at the feet of Loomis, who's responsible for overpaying players like Junior Galette and Jarius Byrd, among others. Those decisions and others have hurt the franchise's ability to stay up with the Joneses (see Carolina) in the NFC South and around the NFL.

Window is closing

Here's my position:

It is my contention that the window of opportunity is all but closed on the Saints with Brees under center. And while No. 9 may still have "Game,'' he no longer can carry this team without better players on both sides of the ball.

It takes money to get difference makers. It takes time to build through the draft. It takes savvy football minds to make sound business decisions on a consistent basis. The Saints are "cash poor,'' largely because of recent bad business decisions by the front office and the amount of money that is (and would be in the future) committed to Brees on an annual basis.

Again, I don't blame Brees. It's the nature of the business.

But signing him to a multi-year, mega-buck extension that could feature a guarantee upwards of $40 million to $45 million, at his age and late stage of his career, is absolutely ludicrous.

Let season play out

Let the season play out. If Brees continues to play at a high level and the Saints make the playoffs, then both sides win. Brees will get a good contract next season and beyond in New Orleans, or elsewhere.

If the Saints toy with 8-8 and miss the playoffs again, then no harm, no foul. If that happens, then it's time, perhaps, for both parties to move on. If Brees exits the season unscathed, I definitely see him landing with a contending team in need of a proven QB (Dallas?).

Unfortunately, I see the Saints flirting with 8-8 and sitting out the postseason again.

If so, "House Rich, Cash Poor'' is no longer a viable business model.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans.

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