The $30 million question
Drew Brees is the best Saint ever, but is he worth the money?
The 2016 NFL season doesn’t officially begin until midafternoon on the Ides of March, but the New Orleans Saints have a bevy of questions to answer now in order to prepare for the days ahead. At the top of the list is figuring out what, if anything, they can do with quarterback Drew Brees’ contract and his future with the team.
Brees, in the last year of his current deal, is 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 site estimates the NFL’s 2016 salary cap will be $150 million. Unfortunately, once again, the Saints are entering the league year in a negative financial position. Entering the league year, the team has a payroll of more than $139.3 million and more than $14.8 million in dead money — salary from previous contracts owed to players no longer with the team.
The problem is more than just a $4 million difference. The team has only 41 players under contract, 12 shy of filling a 53-man active roster. That means the Saints will be forced to cut, negotiate or renegotiate salaries to get under the league-mandated limit. The best place to start is at the top.
Entering the league year, Brees accounts for 22 percent of the Saints’ expected 2016 player payroll. The dilemma is whether they can afford to spend that much on one player, even if he is the franchise’s best player to ever wear their uniform.
Ideally (from the fan perspective), the Saints and Brees would negotiate a new deal that ensures he gets the salary he’s currently owed plus a bit more money spread over the next few years. While his physical traits may have dipped slightly, he is still 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 two to three years. I could see the team offering $60 million to $80 million over three to four years. This will cause Brees’ cap hit for 2016 to go down to an average of $20 million annually, freeing up cash so the team can upgrade much-needed talent around him.
Brees has a lot of negotiating power on his side. His 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 in 2016 and test what could be a very lucrative free agent market in 2017. 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.
Besides, just rhetorically asking who would replace No. 9 under center could cause an outbreak of ulcers across the Who Dat Nation. Seriously, Luke McCown suffered a mysterious back injury that ended his year halfway through the season. The Saints have kept mum on it, which raises questions about his ability going forward. Third-round draft pick Garrett Grayson didn’t see enough of the field as a rookie last year, and with the lack of success from recent Saints draft picks, is he ready to lead the Saints attack just yet? Former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn was signed after McCown was placed on injured reserve. Should Brees leave, Flynn may be the best option going forward if they do not add another quarterback to the roster.
The Saints could, of course, try to trade Brees in order to get something in return for losing him. While the idea of getting something for the quarterback, if indeed he’s going to go, feels right, a trade doesn’t seem likely. No one wants to be known as the person who traded away the greatest. Plus, would teams be willing to give up a combination of first- and second-round draft picks worthy and enticing enough to give up Brees? I doubt it.
If the Saints are hoping to escape mediocrity and again compete for postseason play, the team must escape its financial confinement while assembling the best talent possible. Drew Brees has proved to be the cog that makes the team successful. He was awarded with a contract that made him one of the league’s top paid players and is due $30 million this season. Still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Brees is worth a big deal, but not at the team’s peril. It’s time for the Saints to offer him a contract extension that gives him his due without handicapping their ability to build the rest of the roster.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.