The report that Saints quarterback Drew Brees was willing to re-do his contract to help the Saints sign cornerback Josh Norman, which emerged after it was too late for the Saints to sign Josh Norman, seems on the surface to be good news for a team that desperately needs to chop down its franchise quarterback’s $30 million cap number. But it’s actually bad news.
It’s bad news because it’s the first shot in a P.R. battle between player and team that will quietly (or loudly) play out until he either signs an extension between now and the end of the 2016 season or inks a new contract after his current deal expires.
Consider the specific language of the report tweeted by Ed Werder of ESPN: “I’m told [Brees] personally wanted [Josh Norman] on team and was willing to modify contract to make it happen. Effort failed.”
So why did Brees tell this to Werder after Norman signed with Washington? (Yeah, Werder didn’t say Brees was the source, but Brees or his agent clearly were the source.) Brees is likely bracing for the backlash that may come from Saints fans who realize that Brees’ $30 million cap number for 2016 was the primary impediment to getting Norman.
The $30 million cap number didn’t suddenly emerge on the books. It’s been there since March 9, keeping the Saints from making the kind of moves that could have been made if Brees counted for less this season. It’s remained there because the Saints and Brees can’t work out a new contract.
The Saints and Brees can’t work out a new contract because Brees undoubtedly wants to leverage (as he should) a $20 million payout in 2016 and what would be a $43.2 million franchise tender in 2017 into a long-term deal that doesn’t just inch past Joe Flacco by $100,000 or so per year but that blows the lid off the quarterback market, at least until Andrew Luck signs a long-term deal and surpasses it.
Fans and media seem to be coming around to the idea that there’s nothing wrong with players getting as much money as they can, given the risks and realities of playing pro football — and in light of the fact that no one criticizes owners for making as much money as possible. But Brees, who made $60 million from 2006 through 2011, made $80 million from 2012 through 2015, and will make $20 million this year, could soon find himself being called out by New Orleans fans and media for wanting so much that it hurts the team.
As a result, Brees seems to be trying to short circuit any criticism by creating the impression that he’s not hurting the team by wanting so much that the Saints have been unable to reduce his cap number with a contract extension. The next question is whether the Saints will push back, either by leaking details of what Brees has been requesting on a new deal or by planting the seed with local reporters and columnists that Brees should be called out for putting the team in a tough spot by not agreeing to a new contract before free agency opened.
If the Saints do that, the Brees camp could respond, and an all-out P.R. battle could emerge.
The best move for both sides will be to work out a contract and avoid the ugliness that could be looming. If that doesn’t happen before the start of the season, the one thing that ultimately could be looming come 2017 is a divorce, because there’s no way the Saints can allocate $43.2 million in cap space next year to a quarterback who will be 38 in nine months.