NEW ORLEANS On paper, it appears to be a win-win-win situation for 37-year-old quarterback Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints and Who Dat Nation.
He pockets nearly $45 million in guaranteed money and a two-year commitment to continue his Hall of Fame-caliber career in the Big Easy. The organization avoids a potentially costly and contentious contractual situation. And a loyal fan base can finally, mercifully, breathe a sigh of relief.
Brees and the Saints reached agreement Wednesday on a contract extension that now binds him to the Black and Gold through the 2017 season and will pay him annual base salaries of $24.5 million and $20 million. The new deal includes a no-trade clause, prohibits the team from using the franchise tag on Brees after the ’17 season and reduces his NFL-high salary cap figure of $30 million to $17 million this season.
The cap reduction is significant for an organization that has been “cap poor” the past few years while trying to remake a declining roster and upgrade a historically bad defense.
Wednesday’s developments come days before the Saints are scheduled to open the season at noon Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees threatened months ago to cut off contract negotiations if a deal were not in place by Sunday’s kickoff, indicating he was prepared to play out the final season of a five-year, $100 million deal.
Brees flashed a broad smile when addressing reporters after practice Wednesday, and rightfully so. No doubt, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis must be smiling, too, on the eve of the franchise’s 50th anniversary season.
Here’s the question
My question is this: Why couldn’t this deal have been reached months ago when Loomis and Saints coach Sean Payton were in the preliminary stages of trying to reshape their roster, when the team could have truly maximized the $13 million in new cap room? Why now, on the eve of the NFL regular season, when much of the hay already is in the proverbial barn?
This is not my first rodeo. I understand how NFL contract negotiations work, and the “process” (Brees’ word) that both sides must go through before eventually striking a complicated and high-profile deal. It happens all the time.
“They happen in due time and they happen when they’re supposed to happen,’’ Brees acknowledged.
That said, this deal could have and should have been reached around the start of free agency in March, or before the draft in late April, or in June when more veterans became available, when disposable cap dollars could have affected the here and now for the team.
I’m not privy to contract discussions between Loomis and Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, back when both sides were playing hardball, back when the player reportedly was seeking a four-year, $100 million contract that would have made him the highest paid quarterback in the league.
We may never know the truth about the early days of this negotiation.
But we do know that Brees’ new deal essentially is a one-year extension — although it is being presented as a five-year deal. We also know the new deal provides Loomis with more cap room than he’s had in quite some time.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is there are no assurances that Loomis will spend the cap windfall wisely.
Brees said he made this deal in order to put the Saints in the best position to win now and in the future, to enable Saints officials the ability to acquire new talent and to retain current talent now and in the future.
The future is now.
Actually, the future started six months ago when the NFL calendar officially flipped from 2015 to 2016 on March 10.
As I look at the Saints’ 53-man roster today, I can only wonder what it might look like if this team had had an extra $13 million to play with during free agency.
I suspect we’d be looking at a stronger challenger to three-time defending divisional champion Carolina in the NFC South.
Payton continued to tweak his 53-man roster Wednesday, waiving second-year quarterback Garrett Grayson and re-signing veteran guard Jahri Evans.
Grayson, a third-round pick from Colorado State in 2015, apparently became expendable after taking a step backward during training camp and four preseason games. He completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 409 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in the preseason.
Evans, 33, signed a one-year deal with the team that originally selected him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. A four-time Pro Bowl performer with the Saints, Evans was released in March after declining to restructure his contract. A brief trial with the Seattle Seahawks in training camp ended with his release.
Despite his late arrival, a chance exists that Evans could start at right guard Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at email@example.com.