The news that more than half of Drew Brees‘ salary for 2016 became fully guaranteed on Wednesday wasn’t news. From the time the five-year deal was signed and filed, it was known that more than half of the base salary in the out years of the contract would become fully guaranteed on the third day of the waiver period.
The fact that the Saints neither cut Brees nor restructured the deal before Wednesday gives Brees extra leverage. If they cut him at this point, the Saints will take a $20.85 million cap charge for 2016. If the contract has offset language, however, the extra $10.85 million that vested on Wednesday would disappear if he were cut and then signed by a new team for that much money, which undoubtedly would happen. (If there’s no offset language for the 2016 salary, there’s no way the Saints would cut him at this point.)
Here’s one last point on Wednesday’s trigger. It’s accepted in league circles that a vesting date tied to the waiver period in February is used not to give the team a chance to cut a player, but for funding purposes. If the team wants to retain the ability to cut the player, the vesting date is tied to the start of the league year in March. When teams cut players before a vesting date tied to the waiver period in February, it’s viewed by agents as a major breach of etiquette, making it harder to get agents to agree to use that device in future deal.
As of March 9, Brees hits the books for $30 million in 2016, which will make it very difficult for the Saints to put a competitive team around him. The only way to reduce the number will be to extend the contract — unless Brees unilaterally decides to take less cash in 2016.
Putting a value on an extension becomes the challenge. In 2012, Brees parlayed significant leverage into a then-record contract worth $20 million per year. How much will he want per year at age 37? Another $20 million per year? Or will he want to get back to the top of the market, where Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers currently is making $22 million per year?
However it works out, an extension would allow the Saints to convert a huge chunk of the $19.75 million base salary into a signing bonus, spreading it over multiple years and reducing the cap number significantly for 2016. Apart from the raw numbers of an extension, the structure of a new contract will say plenty about the duration of the team’s commitment to Brees.