So why does a $5 million annual gap exist between the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees?
The Saints believe that, no matter how much Brees huffs and puffs, he’ll never hold out for any significant period of time. Especially not in 2012.
In 2012, the Saints and Brees will try to rebound from a special season that fell short of a Super Bowl because the team failed to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs. In 2012, home-field advantage in the playoffs can be parlayed into home-field advantage in the Super Bowl, something no team ever has done in 46 prior Super Bowls.
In 2012, the Saints need Brees to be fully engaged in order to have the kind of regular season that results in home-field advantage in the postseason. And Brees knows it. And the Saints are banking on Brees ultimately choosing his team over himself.
Brees has said on multiple occasions that he’ll be with the Saints in 2012. He has refrained from saying anything negative about the team throughout months of fruitless negotiations. He has downplayed the potential drama that can arise from these negotiations.
The Saints believe Brees will accept the franchise tag before the launch of offseason workouts, if that’s what it comes to. More immediately, the Saints believe Brees will want to try to work out the best possible long-term deal, so that the Saints can instead use the franchise tag on Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks.
The Saints can get away with playing hardball because they fundamentally believe Brees won’t say or do anything that will paint him as anything less than an all-around good guy. A guy who puts others before himself. A guy who organized workouts during the lockout in order to ensure that the team will be ready for the 2011 season.
Brees has crafted an image that now prevents him from taking the kind of action necessary to get the team’s attention. He can’t hold out. He can’t demand a trade. He can’t try to make the case to the media that he deserves at least one-sixth of the entire salary cap allotment per year.
The risk, of course, is that the Saints will push Brees to the point where he acts out of character. But that would hurt Brees as much, if not more, than it would hurt the Saints.
None of this changes the fact that Brees deserves to be paid among the best quarterbacks in the game. Over the last six years, he has been the very best quarterback in the game. But as other players have learned over the years, being the best doesn’t always mean getting the best contract. To do that, the player must have leverage, and he must be willing to use it.
Brees has leverage. But the Saints are guessing that Brees won’t use it. And the Saints probably are guessing right.
For more on Brees (and other stuff), here’s Ross Tucker and yours truly from Thursday’s PFT Live.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!