With a contract that will expire in just a few weeks and with no progress made during the 2011 season toward a new one and with a record-setting season in his pocket and with a late-game performance against the 49ers that should have been enough to deliver the first road playoff win in franchise history, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints continue to be on a collision course for awkwardness and ugliness in 2012.
In a season-ending press conference held Tuesday, coach Sean Payton said what he’s been saying for months: Brees will be back.
“I think if that question were asked to Mickey [Loomis] or Drew right now, I don’t think there would be any timetable [regarding a new contract],” Payton said in comments distributed by the team. “Certainly the sooner the better, and yet I think this time away here initially after the season ended will be good for everyone to kind of remove yourself from the emotion of the season. I think it will be something that would certainly be on our priority list.”
The Saints have the ability to prevent Brees from becoming a free agent, via the franchise tag. The Saints can even use the “exclusive” version of the tag, which would prevent another team from extending an offer to Brees that, if not matched by the Saints, would secure the single-season passing yardage record-holder’s rights in exchange for two first-round picks.
The real question remains whether the two sides will work something out on their own before Brees misses offseason workouts, training camp, and/or the preseason. Like all franchise-tagged players, Brees can stay away until only days before the start of the regular season and still earn the full amount of the franchise-player salary.
If it comes to that, how will Brees be ready to play as of Week One?
And so the Saints and Brees could be destined for a game of chicken, with the team believing there’s no way he’ll stay away from his teammates and undermine his own preparation for 2012 and Brees believing there’s no way the team will want him to miss out on preparation that will be vital to winning enough regular-season games in 2012 to force the road to the Superdome through, well, the Superdome.
That’s the overriding factor in all of this: The Saints host the Super Bowl next year. Thus, owner Tom Benson and company surely will want the Saints to play in that game.
To make that happen, the Saints need to play their playoff games in the Superdome, too. To ensure home-field advantage in the postseason, Brees needs to be fully prepared for the start of the regular season.
To make that happen, Benson and the Saints need to pay Brees an amount reflecting his value to the organization.
At the same time, Brees needs to leave enough cash under the cap to help pump up the defense and replace guys like Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, who surely will be pilfered by teams hoping to weaken the Saints, arguably the best team in the league at the end of the regular season.
To make that happen, they need to make Brees happy. As Payton says, the sooner the better.