A long-term deal that pays quarterback Drew Brees more over the first three years than the Saints would pay by using the franchise tag for three straight seasons makes no business sense for the team. And so the three-year breakeven point is (or at least appears to be) $64.305 million, which is the sum of $16.371 million for 2012 plus $19.645 million for 2012 (i.e., 120 percent of his 2012 salary) plus $28.289 million for 2014 (i.e., 144 percent of his 2013 salary).
In other words, if Brees wants more than $21.435 million per year over the next three years, the Saints would be wise to go year-to-year under the franchise tag.
Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reports that Brees’ camp believes his multi-year take under the franchise tag would be even higher, by forcing the Saints to give Brees a 44-percent raise not in 2014 but in 2013, given that Brees already has played a full season under the franchise tag as a member of the Chargers, in 2005. This argument arises from the basic notion that, in a player’s second franchise-tag season, he gets a 20-percent raise over his prior season’s salary and, in his third franchise-tag season, he receives a 44-percent bump.
This argument, however, doesn’t mesh with a commonsensical reading of the key language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Article 10, Section 2(b) sets forth the formula arising from a thirdfranchise-tag designations, starting with the following language: “Any Club that designates a player as a Franchise Player for the third time. . . .”
It doesn’t say “if a player is designated as a Franchise Player for the third time.” It says “any Club that designates a player as a Franchise Player for the third time.” This strongly implies that the Club that is designating the player as a franchise player for the third time has designated the player as a franchise player twice before.
This alternative interpretation of the CBA puts only an extra $3.929 million in play, pushing the two-year take from $36.016 million to $39.945 million. So if Brees wants more than $39.945 million over the first two years, it still makes more sense for the Saints to use the tag twice.
There’s another aggressive argument Brees’ camp could advance under Article 10 of the CBA, but no reference to this possibility appears in Cole’s article. Brees and the NFLPA could claim that the CBA contemplates that a player will be subject to the franchise tag only three times, since it contains no language or formula contemplating the use of a franchise tag a fourth time. Thus, if the Saints use the tag on Brees this year and next year, and if using the tag this year and next year amounts to using a tag three total times on Brees, Brees could argue that he can’t be tagged in 2014, and this would be an unrestricted free agent.
Perhaps the best news for the 2012 edition of the Saints is that any discussion about what Brees would earn under the franchise tag in 2013 means that he is in fact willing to play under the franchise tag in 2012, despite multiple reports that he won’t. If he doesn’t play under the franchise tag in 2012, his salary for 2013 once again would be $16.371 million.