A Quarterback Looks At 40

Brees older, but nowhere near the end of the line yet

The New Orleans Saints are back in training camp, meaning were six Sundays away from the return of NFL action. This offseason the Saints made a handful of free agent signings and had what appears to be a fairly solid draft, but one expected move hasn’t happened yet. The team has not come to terms with quarterback Drew Brees on a new contract.

Brees is entering the last season of his current deal. He’s scheduled to make $30 million ($19.75 million in guaranteed base salary, a $10 million prorated bonus, and a $250,000 workout bonus), according to overthecap.com. The NFL has set a $155 million salary cap for its teams this year. That means Brees will earn just less than 20 percent of the team’s payroll.

I thought by now the team would have looked to reduce Brees’ salary cap hit, freeing up money that could be used to attract other impact players to the team and upgrade much-needed talent across the roster.

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At 37, he remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and looks like he can play among the league’s top half of signal callers for the next few years.

On Thursday, at a press conference after the first practice of training camp, Brees again said he believes he can play NFL-caliber football into his 40s. The time to agree on a new deal is quickly passing though. Brees said he will not negotiate once the regular season begins.

“If there’s something to be done, it’s between now and the season,” Brees said. “Once the season comes around it’s not something I want to be negotiating or worrying about. I’ll be focused on whoever we’re playing that week.  So if there’s a deal to be done, it will be between now and the season.”

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Brees said he and his agent, Tom Condon, maintain a great relationship with the Saints’ front office, and is not concerned. “There’s a process to this, and it isn’t an exact science and it isn’t an exact process.”

The quarterback credits a decade of offseason training with former MLB pitcher Tom House for helping to prolong his career and prepare himself for the physical, mental, emotional and psychological tolls of a career in professional football.

“Part of the training that we do together, is making sure that I can sustain at the level that I want to be at, playing at a high level for really as long as I want to do it. We are trying to beat the aging process.”

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Whether the two sides get together before the season or wait, Brees has a lot of negotiating power on his side. His 2016 contact is guaranteed, so there is nothing that has to bring him to the negotiating table. He could simply play out his deal, make $30 million this year and test the market as a free agent in 2017.

Of course, the Saints could stand pat and put the franchise tag on their QB for the 2017 season. But if they do that, it would be the third time in his career that Brees has been tagged. According to Pro Football Talk, his salary would increase 44-percent to $43.2 million – for one year. That would mean the Saints would pay Brees $73.2 million for two seasons of play. And they’d still need a starter for 2018.

There is no doubt that a team in need of a quarterback, especially one who may be a playmaker short of making the Super Bowl, would be interested in signing the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback to a mega contract. Just this offseason, the Indianapolis Colts signed Andrew Luck to a 5-year, $122.97 million contract, that averages $24.6 million a year. Luck’s deal included a $32 million signing bonus and $87 million in guaranteed funds. The Houston Texans, looking for a missing piece at quarterback, signed Brock Osweiler – who has started only seven games in his four-year career and was benched during the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos last year – to a four-year, $72 million contract.

Brees is not naïve. I don’t think he expects to be pulling on shoulder pads into his 40s, but he knows he’s still one of the league’s best and, unless something dramatic ensues, he should be among the top 10 QBs in the NFL for the next three seasons.

Brees gives New Orleans its best chance to win, but not at a cost of $30 million a year or more.

How the Saints move forward with Bress and his contract will be telling. Will they keep their all time best player as the centerpiece of the organization? Or, is this the end of the epoch, and the Saints will have to build another champion?



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