Saints quarterback Drew Brees has said, repeatedly, that he plans to stay with the team for which he has played for 12 years. The Saints, so far, have said nothing about the process for signing Brees to a new contract.
Here’s the process, as a practical matter. The Saints eventually will decide what they can/will pay to Brees, and they’ll offer it to him. (He’ll count at least $18 million against the team’s cap in 2018, regardless of whether he re-signs.) In the interim, other teams will be able (despite the rarely-enforced tampering rules) to make sure agent Tom Condon realize what else may be out there for Brees, if he chooses to make leave a tree.
Surely, it would take a lot more than the Saints would offer to get Brees to leave. But with Brees, an astute businessman far closer to Peyton Manning than Tom Brady on the “it’s not my job to manage your salary cap” scale, declaring his intention to stay put, maybe he’s testing the team to see whether a lowball offer will be extended, based on his public statements of an intention to stay put.
Brees will know, if he doesn’t already, what another team (or teams) would pay. And he’ll know the moment the Saints communicate their last, best offer whether he’ll be sticking around.
When Brees signed a one-year extension before the 2016 season, he made it clear that he wouldn’t be signing another one. Apart from the fact that he never negotiates during football season, when he’s all-in and laser-focused on the task at hand, Brees surely wanted to see where the market goes before gauging his own value.
So what is his value? Matthew Stafford (also represented by Condon) makes $27 million per year, and he’s never won a playoff game. Derek Carr makes $25 million a year, and he’s never played in a playoff game. What is Brees worth in comparison to them?
He turned 39 on Monday. But he’s showing no signs of wear and/or tear. He could play at least two more years at a high level, maybe longer.
Other teams without a franchise quarterback realize these dynamics (if they don’t, they need new decision-makers), and they undoubtedly are factoring Brees into their potential plans for 2018. Setting aside the teams with no real chance to contend at a high level in 2018 (Browns), let’s consider the teams that already could be making discreetly known to Condon the amount of cash they’d deposit into Brees’ coffers.
Broncos: They need both a quarterback and, perhaps more importantly, a leader. A guy who can pull the locker room together, holding players accountable on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning did that. Brees is one of the few currently in the NFL who can.
Cardinals: They desperately need a quarterback. (First, they need a coach.) And with running back David Johnson, receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and a roster that generated an 8-8 record despite a slew of injuries, Brees could be the ingredient to a potential Super Bowl run.
Jets: While they need plenty of pieces to become contenders, Brees would lift them to a higher level, instantly. While it may not be enough to get them past the Patriots, it would be fun to watch.
Jaguars: If they don’t make it to the Super Bowl (or if they make it and lose), the Jags could decide that the key ingredient to getting over the hump will be getting a new quarterback. A better quarterback. A first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. A Drew Brees.
Dolphins: They could have had him 12 years ago, but they decided to trade for a guy with a wrecked knee over signing a guy who was recovering from shoulder surgery. Though Ryan Tannehill remains the guy in Miami, would coach Adam Gase feel differently if Brees was interested in doing what the Dolphins didn’t want to do in 2006?
Vikings: Yes, the Vikings. If faced with the prospect of tagging Case Keenum at $23 million for 2018, how much more would they pay for the guy who led the Saints back from 17-0 in the second half? It would be a ballsy, all-in move, identical to the one that the Vikings made nine years ago, when they signed Brett Favre and nearly got back to the Super Bowl. With a balanced team on both sides of the ball, Brees could be the difference.
Despite the word salad that you (hopefully) just consumed, it remains unlikely that Brees will play for another team. Until he does, however, the chance of a late-career change of venue lingers. And the possibilities for Brees changing teams for the second time in his career remain fascinating.