Saints rebuilding starts with Brees deal
At the kick off of the 2016 season, New Orleans looks to future
In the weeks before the 2016 season begins, the New Orleans Saints have looked a bit schizophrenic. With a winless preseason run and walking a salary cap tightrope, the Saints have made cuts, deals, re-signings, and landed a franchise quarterback at a time that doesn’t do much to help the myriad issues facing the current team, including signing an offensive lineman who will be paid twice for this year’s campaign.
The big shadow that has loomed over the franchise is the failure of previous big-name signings who are no longer on the team, but are still contractually owed guaranteed money. For the past four seasons dead money has caused the Saints to compete on an unleveled financial playing ground with most of their NFL brethren. For every dollar a team without a salary cap issue has been able to spend, the Saints have been limited to spending roughly 75 cents.
This year the Saints are on the hook for more than $35.5 million, almost a quarter of their budget, in dead money, right off the top, going nowhere in advancing this year’s team.
That’s why the timing of Brees’ contract is questionable. On Wednesday, the franchise player signed a five-year deal for salary cap purposes, but the final three years are voidable. So, it’s essentially a $44.25 million deal – all guaranteed – for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Brees’ cap hit will be $17.25 million this year, $19 million in 2017, $6 million in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
The new deal nearly halved Brees’ 2016 salary cap hit and freed up $12.75 million. The Saints needed to make a deal like this in the spring, when they could have used that money to bring in top talent to shore up needed areas of weakness, like the offensive and defensive lines.
Still, the move is a positive for the team. Had they not reached a deal, Brees would have become a free agent at the end of the season. The team could have put the franchise tag on him for the 2017 season, but it would have been the third time in his career that Brees would have been tagged. According to Pro Football Talk, his salary would automatically 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, $28.95 million more than the new $44.25 million deal.
“The cap situation to me was the most important element to this,” Brees said at a press conference announcing the deal. “Over the next few years, (we want to put) our team in the best position to keep talent and acquire talent and the right type of guys that fit what we're trying to accomplish here.”
“I plan to play for longer than two years. My mindset going into this was to be able to secure a deal that would take me for as long as I plan on playing, but this was what was in the best interest of the team and so, that's why it was a two-year deal.”
The Saints made a practical decision with Brees’ contract. He’s 37 this year and 38 next year. They are right to question whether the quarterback will want to be under center at 39 years old in 2018. Brees is still sharp, one of the best in the NFL. However, Father Time can be quick and cruel in dulling talent and skill. This deal provides a bridge to determine whether 2015 third round draft choice and current practice squad quarterback Garrett Grayson can develop into the heir apparent or whether they need to look at free agents (the Broncos look like they’ve got two young QBs with NFL potential) or drafting a college QB in the 2017 Draft.
Next year, the Saints will finally emerge from salary cap hell and get on more solid financial ground. According to overthecap.com, the NFL salary cap is expected to increase to $166 million in 2017. The Saints currently have $145.5 million in deals set for next year, with only $5.49 million in dead money. That will give the team nearly $44 million to make significant upgrades across the roster. That way, no matter who is under center, they will have a sound team around him.