Wednesday, July 11, 2012



At long last, by 3 p.m. next Monday, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will finally have agreed to a new five-year contract. It will be the biggest upset of the NFL season if they don't.

The two sides will probably keep haggling over the details right up until the July 16 deadline. But it will be stunning if Brees doesn't ultimately sign a contract worth somewhere between $19.2 million and $20 million per year, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history.

Only an absurd amount of stubbornness could get in the way now.
The Saints have already offered Brees the richest contract in league history, surpassing the $19.2 million per year that the Denver Broncos gave quarterback Peyton Manning earlier this year, though it's not clear exactly how the offer was structured.
Frankly, that should be enough to get the deal done. And maybe it will be if the Saints refuse to give another inch over the next week.
Meanwhile, Brees and agent Tom Condon will try to push that number up to $20 million per year, and they'll push for more guaranteed money and more money in the first three years. And good for them if they can get it.
This could be the last big contract of Brees' career, and he deserves as much as he can get after outperforming all of his previous contracts.
But once Brees has leveraged the Saints' final offer as high as it can go, it would be hard to imagine him walking away from such a lucrative long-term deal.
It would be unthinkable for Brees to turn down something like $96 million because he wants $100 million, when the alternative is a one-year, $16.4 million deal under the franchise tag - and all the uncertainty and unhappiness that would come along with it.
Sure, the same argument could be made against the Saints. Why not pay an extra million per year to make sure Brees is happy? But it's not like the Saints have been low-balling their franchise savior throughout this process.
The NFL Players Association's recent claim that the Saints haven't been acting in good faith in these negotiations was preposterous.
The Saints could have played hardball with Brees, since he is not an unrestricted free agent and they have the leverage of the franchise tag. They could have drawn a line in the sand at around $18 million per year and forced him into a tough decision.
Instead, they're poised to offer Brees even more than the market value that was established by Condon and fellow mega-client Manning back in March when Manning was an unrestricted free agent being pursued by at least three teams.
In that sense, Brees has already "won" this contract standoff.
He has already gotten the Saints to raise their offer from a back-loaded deal worth around $18 million per year last summer, to a more front-loaded deal worth around $18.75 million per year in the spring, to the latest undisclosed offer that was made last month.
And kudos to Brees and Condon for that.
Brees first increased his market value by having one of the best seasons in NFL history last year. Then Manning's deal raised the bar even higher. Then in recent months, the pressure of public opinion has mostly been on Brees' side, with about 50 percent of the fan base echoing some form of the chorus, "Just pay the man already."
Brees and Condon won another small battle in the war for leverage last week when an arbitrator ruled that Brees was a second-year franchise player instead of a first-year franchise player.
That means if the Saints try to franchise Brees again in 2013, they'll have to pay him $23.6 million instead of $19.6 million.
But that shouldn't really have much bearing on the negotiations. For one thing, even with that higher franchise-tag salary in 2013, Brees would still make more money over the next two years by agreeing to a long-term contract instead.
More importantly, both sides are determined to get a long-term deal done, and neither wants to even consider the possibility of going through this franchise tag saga again next year.
This thing has dragged on long enough already. That's something everyone can agree on.

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