Contract Questions for the Saints and Drew Brees

In an interview yesterday Saints GM Mickey Loomis was confident that he could get a deal done with Drew Brees to lower his cap charge and keep Brees in New Orleans for what should be the rest of his career. Brees has pretty much all the leverage if he wants to use it. I’ll look at some of the factors involved in this deal and what the cap charges could look like in the future.


The Brees Contract Dilemma

I talked about this last year and in the offseason just a few weeks back that if the Saints were not open to trading Brees than they had no option but to extend him. Brees’ contract holds the same minefields as Ndamukong Suh’s did with the Lions last season. What happened with Suh is that the Lions allowed Suh’s contract to get so far out of control via restructures that they lost the ability to franchise tag him because the cost would be so high. Brees’ contract is like Suh’s on steroids.

The way the franchise tag works is that you pay either a set amount based on the percentage of the salary cap or a percentage raise over the player’s prior year salary cap figure, whatever is greater. In Brees’ case he has been tagged multiple times already so his franchise tender will be a one year offer worth 144% of his $30 million cap hit, $43.28 million. That salary is more than any quarterback received in the first new money year of a multi-year extension. So they have no option but to let him hit free agency if no extension is reached now.

The Discount Hope

There seems to be this prevailing thought that Brees will take some type of discount to come back to New Orleans because Tom Brady did the same with the Patriots and to lesser extent Peyton Manning did the same with Denver. It may be hard to justify. Brady has almost always been considered an outlier when it comes to contracts. He has been willing to concede millions upon millions of dollars with New England. Peyton took a pay cut of a few million and earned them back in incentives, however unlikely they were.

Both likely make millions more off the field than Brees ever has in his career. You can’t go anywhere without seeing Peyton on TV hawking Papa Johns pizza or humming the Nationwide theme. Bradys wife is one of the highest paid models in the world. Brees doesn’t have that. He also has not been as fortunate on the field. Manning has always been one of the highest paid players since his first extension over a decade ago. Brady has been well compensated, even with his discounts. Brees has played on franchise tags, signed bargain contracts because of injuries and took far more time to develop into the NFLs first $20 million dollar man.

Brees is also big union guy and sees his part in helping the other players by negotiating with a team as strong as the team negotiates with others who may not have the same abilities as Brees. Any discount Brees takes makes it easier for his team to try to strong arm other players into team friendly contracts or release players and still comply with the cap.

Age Concerns

Brees will be 38 years old when his next contract officially kicks in. That’s certainly on the older end and an age where players careers draw to an end. That’s the same age Manning was when the Broncos front office realized he was no longer the same player. Brett Favre made it to 40 and fell off a cliff the following year. Kurt Warner retired at 39. Brady will be 39 this season and who knows how the year will turn out for him. In modern times the only 39+ starters have been Manning, Favre, Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Hasselbeck, and Doug Flutie. Only Moon and Favre were really effective at 40.

In essence they are going to be signing Brees to what will, at most, likely be a three year period in which he can be an effective player. Even that may be pushing it.  Even if he agrees to just work off his current deal and play for $20 million a year (which may be considered a discount), they will likely still be in a big cap mess with his deal.

The Cap Implications

They already owe him $20 million this season and it’s rare for a player to earn no raise in the year they sign their extension. The going rate for extension season new money for a top end quarterback is probably between $15 and $20 million, bringing his total takehome this year to $35-$40 million.

In order to make that work with his nightmarish contract they will need to give a massive signing bonus to a player who will be 38 next season. Here is what the contract might look like assuming something similar in terms of cash flows (actually better terms for the team) to his last deal.

AgeSalaryProratedCapDead
37$1,000,000$17,000,000$18,000,000$45,000,000
38$17,000,000$7,000,000$24,000,000$28,000,000
39$16,000,000$7,000,000$23,000,000$21,000,000
40$12,000,000$7,000,000$19,000,000$14,000,000
41$19,000,000$7,000,000$26,000,000$7,000,000
42$20,000,000$0$20,000,000$0

That’s still massive money on a contract in terms of cap dollars and money in the event of being cut.  Sure it saves $12 million on the cap this year, but the team will need to be much more fiscally responsible in the future to keep their cap from being hurt by the magnitude of some of the future numbers. Its certainly not an enviable position for the Saints who are really in a position of weakness at this point when they negotiate a deal.

  • NW86

    Yikes. I can’t imagine what Owner/GM would sign a deal like that with that kind of signing bonus to a 37 year old player. Those dead money charges are inexcusable. I don’t think even the Saints are looking forward to crippling themselves the next few years for a player approaching 40.

    Brees does hold most of the leverage, as you noted, and that is a good point about him being a union guy. But the one factor working the other way is that I assume he is bright enough to realize that his cap charges are crippling the team and are the biggest hindrance to them bringing in enough talent around him to try to win a superbowl. No, he doesn’t have as much other income as Peyton or Brady, but I’m pretty sure the $100M he’s made over the past few years is more than enough, and I would think getting 1 or 2 last chances at a superbowl are a priority for him.

    If a deal does get done, I would expect it to be a 3-year extension (giving them 4 years of amortization) without as much new money in 2016 (most of his “bonus” would be converted from his already scheduled 2016 salary). Using the same columns as your table above, it could look more like this:

    Age – Salary – Prorated – Cap – Dead
    37 – $ 5M – $16M – $21M – $34M
    38 – $15M – $ 6M – $21M – $18M
    39 – $18M – $ 6M – $24M – $12M
    40 – $18M – $ 6M – $24M – $ 6M

    • David J. Kubik

      I have him with something very similar to what you have, but only the extension does give him a raise of $1 million a year (not guaranteed) and the first new year of the contract is guaranteed – then the second year has 10 million or so guarantee the day after the Super Bowl.

  • Jim

    You forgot to mention that the Patriots also funnel an untold amount of money to a company that Brady owns, which also helps makes up for his “hometown discount”.

  • Jim

    You forgot to mention that the Patriots also funnel an untold amount of money to a company that Brady owns, which also helps makes up for his “hometown discount”.

  • Jim

    If/when the Saints extend him, I can’t see how any Saints fan is going to look at this in any manner other than, what a perfect time it would have been to trade Brees for a 1st rd pick, pick up that $20m in cap space and see what Garrett Grayson could do.

    Does even a Saints diehard fan when thinking objectively, think they have any chance at all at competing for an NFC crown again before Brees retires? Outside of striking gold in the top 3 rounds of this years draft with a WR, ED, OL along with Newton and Keulchy both enduring season-ending injuries, I can’t see how they can even think about realistically winning the division.

    • McGeorge

      The Saints should have traded him a year ago. Imagine him on Denver. He’d have a realistic chance of another ring, if he was willing to not be paid top $$$.

      Cam Newton will be healthy in 2016 because he didn’t risk getting injured trying to recover his fumble in the super bowl 😉

  • eddiea

    Instead of Signing Bonus of $45M, why not Roster Bonuses? Or am i wrong about them not being Pro-rated,b/c i thought they weren’t if contract was signed before 2wks before season started. Am i wrong or using wrong section of CBA?