In a recent appearance on PFT Live, Saints quarterback Drew Brees reiterated his position that talks on a new contract will end when the season begins. The season begins, if you haven’t heard, in six days.
So the clock is ticking, and Brees continues to hold all the cards. Even though the Saints have found a way to build a roster despite Brees having a $30 million cap number in 2016, the veteran quarterback likely will see the market set his value if a new contract isn’t finalized, given that use of the franchise tag would result, by rule, in a one-year cash and cap charge of $43.2 million.
Brees consistently has said he doesn’t want to leave New Orleans. And the Saints surely want to keep him. But his leverage necessarily points to a better deal than the Saints have put on the table to date, and the question becomes as the season prepares to commence whether the Saints will sweeten the offer in order to get Brees under contract beyond 2016.
From the player’s perspective, last week’s knee injury to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater underscores the importance of shifting the injury risk to the team. Although Brees has made plenty of money and will make $20 million more this year, his future earning potential would be dramatically limited if he’s hurt during practice or a game.
On the other hand, if the Saints don’t put an offer on the table that Brees regards as worthy of accepting, and if Brees emerges from the season unscathed and still performing at a high level, he’ll be able to request even more than whatever he currently wants.
The talks have been professional to date, with the Saints not, for example, leaking to the media that Brees wants to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL — like the Giants did a year ago when Eli Manning had the leverage to make more than the $22 million new-money average that represented the top of the market at the time. The Andrew Luck deal has nudged the current new-money maximum to $24.594 million, and Brees is in position to get more than that now, possibly a lot more than that later.
Does Brees deserve more than Luck? Is Brees more accomplished than Luck? Will Brees perform better than Luck in 2016 and beyond?
However those inherently subjective questions would be resolved (and some would easily resolve them by saying, yes, yes, and yes), none of it matters. What matters is leverage. For now, the player’s primary leverage comes from his ability to force his way to the open market, and possibly to a team like the Jets, in 2017. By March, the leverage will be whatever over-the-top offer a team would make for the ability to secure the services and marketability of Drew Brees for one, two, three, or more years on the back end of his career.
At this point, it’s unclear what that amount would be. That probably makes it even harder to determine the proper amount that the Saints should offer now to keep Brees from doing what few healthy franchise quarterbacks ever get a chance to do: Become truly unrestricted free agents.