NEW ORLEANS Here we go again.
Take 5: The Drew Brees contract saga. Will he or won't he sign sign a new contract and remain quarterback of the New Orleans Saints?
Now that they are no longer in the running for a second Lombardi Trophy, the biggest sports story in these parts involves No. 9 and where he plans to play football next season.
Here's what we know about his situation:
Brees turned 39 Monday, a day after the Minnesota Vikings eliminated the Saints from Super Bowl LII contention with a stunning, walk-off 29-24 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
His current five-year contract includes three dummy years and expires March 14. It paid him $24.25 million this past season. It featured a $30 million signing bonus and was structured so that it could be pro-rated through 2020 for salary cap purposes. If the three dummy years (2018-'19-'20) void, the Saints will be charged $18 million to their salary cap relating to Brees' signing bonus, regardless where he plays next season.
Brees has a no-trade clause. The contract also includes language that prevents Saints officials from designating him as a franchise or transition player since the voiding date falls after the end of the designation period on March 6.
In other words, it would behoove the Saints to strike a deal with Brees and his super agent, Tom Condon, before March 14 to avoid the automatic $18 million cap charge.
Here's the tricky part:
How much do Saints officials pay the aging face of the franchise and undisputed toast of the town who has a city, region and fan base eating out of his hands? How much do GM Mickey Loomis/owner Tom Benson pony up to employ a near-40 QB, one who continues to play at an elite level and not compromise their current roster and jeopardize future attempts to meet other pressing needs?
Brees wisely has placed the ball in Loomis' court, saying he wants to stay with the Saints as long as they want him? Why leave? Based on the youth-infused, reinvigorated roster, the Saints figure to be in the Super Bowl hunt next season and beyond.
I'm sure Saints officials want to keep Brees, but at what cost? Two years, $50 million guaranteed in another dummy-season laden contract? Condon isn't in the business of striking team-friendly contracts, not when his client base also includes prominent QBs Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Matt Ryan, each of whom commands top dollar. Plus, Brees hasn't shown a willingness in the past to give a hometown discount.
Suffice to say, Brees won't come cheap, here or anywhere else. Nor should he. He can still ball, still pick apart a defense and still make those around him better. Some might question his arm strength (see underthrown deep ball to Ted Ginn Jr. against Minnesota that resulted in an INT).
So, he's not perfect.
At some point, the clock will strike 12 on Brees' Hall-of-Fame career.
But that time isn't now, not after winning the NFC South and coming within a missed last-second tackle of playing for the conference championship.
Now's not the time for management to pinch pennies, not with the salary cap climbing to an all-time high of $178.1 million.
Nor is it the time for an aging icon to get overly greedy.