Brian Allee-Walsh

Drew Brees' pay now-pay later contract leaves Saints between rock and hard place

BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis speaks to reporters on the first day of reporting for training camp at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis speaks to reporters on the first day of reporting for training camp at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

The NFL offseason extends well beyond March Mayhem.

Thus, I'm not ready to condemn the apparent passive, disinterested approach taken by New Orleans Saints officials during the first week of free agency.

On one hand, GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have shown remarkable restraint and been fiscally responsible in the early going, careful not to get caught up in the annual spending frenzy. On the other hand, they really have no choice in the matter because the room under their 2016 salary cap resembles little more than crawl space. Oh sure, they could mortgage the future as they have in the past with players, safety Jairus Byrd, for example, but where does that get them? A year or two older and deeper in cap debt!

Consequently, while NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Atlanta are making relatively big splashes in the deep end of the talent pool, the Saints are just dipping their tootsies in the shallow end.

I suspect the Black and Gold will remain bit players in free agency as long as 37-year-old quarterback Drew Brees continues to count a league-high $30 million against the team's adjusted salary cap of $155,562,062.

One can't spend what one doesn't have and Loomis is running out of options to recapture more cap room.

At the moment, neither Saints management nor Team Brees appear to be in a hurry to restructure the final year of the QB's contract, which calls for him to make a base salary of $19.75 million and an additional $10.25 million in signing, workout and restructured bonuses.

Whereas Loomis seemed more receptive to discussing the situation to reporters after the season, he seems less engaged to now. When reporters asked for an update Monday at LSU Pro Day in Baton Rouge, La., Loomis replied: "I'm not going to address that. He's under contract."

In a recent radio interview, Brees' agent, Tom Condon, noted that the NFL salary cap has climbed exponentially the past three years, thereby placing the Saints in better financial footing. Case in point: Since Brees signed a blockbuster five-year, $100 million deal in July 2012, a handful of quarterbacks have shot past Brees in terms of average payout. Only weeks ago, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco received a $40 million signing bonus, eclipsing the previous high of $37 million given to Brees in '12.

Former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler recently signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Houston Texans of which $37 million is guaranteed.

Osweiler has seven NFL starts to his name.

Thus, the bar has been raised dramatically, which can be a profitable thing if you are named Drew Brees, even when it comes to restructuring a contract.

"I think that if the Saints wanted to, they could leave it like it is and live with that $30 million number," Condon said. "But it would clearly give them some more options if we could do an extension on Drew and drop that cap number."

Advantage Team Brees.

You gotta love March Mayhem.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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