If the 2015 Saints falter, Drew Brees will be playing elsewhere in 2016

In August of 2007, you’d have had a hard time finding someone who thought Brett Favre would be starting for the Jets in 2008. In August of 2011, finding a predictor of the Peyton Manning-Broncos 2012 marriage would have been just as difficult a task. Today, you don’t hear many people placing Drew Brees in a non-Saints uniform in 2016. Yet take a closer look and you’ll find this scenario isn’t so far-fetched.

New Orleans’ cap problems have been an OverTheCap hot topic for a few years running. Jason even explained these issues to Peter King’s MMQB back in March: “they made a number of short-sighted contract decisions with veteran players to allow them to keep adding players to the team while just pushing cap charges into the future.” The Saints’ $155.7m cap dollars on the 2016 books is the second most of any team. Their $13.7m in 2016 dead money is more than twice as much as any other team. When it comes to poor cap situations, they’re in a league of their own

This cap mismanagement might be tolerable if New Orleans was making deep playoff runs annually. But after two 7-9 seasons in the past 3 years, their 2009 championship season seems like a distant memory. Last year’s 7-9 campaign, where the Saints were preseason favorites following an offseason spending spree, was particularly painful for Saints Nation.

New Orleans should have started the rebuilding process this past offseason, but Mickey Loomis doesn’t have time for that. Instead, the Saints seemingly “re-strategized”. Loomis traded away Jimmy Graham—whose 790 injury-riddled 2014 snaps cost the Saints $13m total cap dollars—less than eight months after signing him. The trade, which was sandwiched by the resigning of Mark Ingram and open-market acquisition of CJ Spiller (both to player-friendly 4-year/$16 million deals), brought back center Max Unger. Sense a theme here?

Maybe this potential shift to a more run-focused offense will work. Maybe it’ll increase the offenses efficiency and keep the defense fresh. But if it doesn’t, the Saints GM, whether it’s Loomis or someone else, will have to seriously consider a complete re-build after 2015.

This rebuilding job won’t be easy. It’ll involve more than simply cutting aging veterans; there’s only one player the Saints could cut (pre-June 1st) that would clear more than $4.5m in 2016 cap space. That player is Brees, who is a free agent after 2016 and would save the Saints $20m against the cap. But cutting a future Hall of Famer still playing at a high level in a league where Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer are starting, while getting nothing in return, hardly seems like a smart move regardless of the salary cap implications.

The Saints could try to extend Brees and rebuild the pieces around him, but lack the leverage to do so. Brees has already been franchised twice in his career, meaning he’d be due a 144% raise from his 2015 salary. And based on Brees’ negotiating tactics in 2012, there can’t be much hope he’d be open to a discount.

That leaves one option: trade Brees to the highest bidder.

Insert Drew Brees on the 2016 Jets or Bills—two teams with stout defenses and sufficient playmakers on offense—and both immediately become Super Bowl contenders. The same can be said for the Texans and the Cardinals. Even the Browns would be in the championship discussion with Brees at the helm. You can imagine quite a bidding war and ultimately a large haul of draft picks for the Saints, granted the team who trades for Brees was given a window to extend him.

The Saints could then place Garrett Grayson (and his $773k 2016 cap number)—the No. 75 overall pick in the 2015 draft and the highest drafted Saints quarterback since Archie Manning —in Brees’ spot. While Grayson won’t be Brees in 2016 (or ever), he at least represents a young, viable option at quarterback.

I’m not saying the Saints will have a down year, as it’s never a good idea to doubt a team quarterbacked by a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I’m simply saying that if they do, Brees’ tenure in New Orleans may very well end. And if you root for a team with perpetual quarterback issues, you might want to root against the 2015 Saints.

Andrew Cohen