Saints Nightmare Continues

Following a brutal loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Saints season looks to have gotten even bleaker with an injury to starting QB Drew Brees.

I’ve written extensively on the Saints poor handling of their salary cap and how they are a team that has desperately tried to hang on to the past, but if Brees is to miss extensive time it should push the Saints towards the rebuilding effort they have avoided the last few years.  If Brees’ injury were to cause him to miss several weeks I think it would even be fair to ask if this is the last we have seen in aof Brees in a Saints uniform.

Despite the Saints poor record last season and 0-2 start this year, there is no team in the NFL with a worse salary cap situation than New Orleans in 2016. The Saints already have $14 million in dead money commited to 2016 despite carrying a league high $30 million in dead money this year. There is essentially little difference seperating the Saints handling of the cap from that of the Oakland Raiders a few years ago when they carried around $50 million in dead money as they tore apart their roster and more or less turned themselves into an expansion team.

The only difference between the two, in regards to cap, is that the Saints made the conscious effort to split the pain over two years rather than one, with the feeling that Brees was good enough to keep the Saints competitive to avoid the embarrassment of a completely lost season. To support the effort the Saints kept active in free agency by signing players like CJ Spiller and Mark Ingram and kept other pieces in place by deferring more money to the future. Even with Brees the Saints looked to be headed to a 6 win season, but without him they could be looking at the top pick in the draft.

Brees will enter the final season of his contract in 2016 and carry a $27.4 million salary cap hit. If the Saints were to franchise Brees the following season it should cost them just under $39 million since Brees’ salary should fall in line with a player tagged three times, if not it would be $33 million.  Either way that move would likely put them again at the bottom of the NFL in cap commitments. There is really no place for that on a rebuilding team and it’s not like there is really any other avenue for the quick fix given their prior failures in free agency and contract management to avoid that type of rebuilding effort.

There would be no better asset for the Saints to utilize to rebuild than trading Brees. Despite his age Brees should be able to fetch at least one first round draft pick from a team. Back in 2008 the Jets traded for a 39 year old Brett Favre, giving up a third round pick in the process. That pick would have escalated to a 2nd rounder had the Jets made the playoffs. Brees will be two years younger in 2016 than Favre was in 2008 and the Saints should have more leverage to negotiate than the Packers, who thought Favre was retired before he showed up at camp expecting to get his starting job back. Not only was the timing poor for a trade but Green Bay wanted to limit the market by focusing on the AFC rather than seeing Favre come back to play them in a meaningful game. The position is also probably considered even more valuable now than it was then, given the explosion of recent salaries.

Teams that are already heavily committed on one side of the football but lack the resources at QB would likely give up whatever it takes to bring in a player with the value of Brees. The Bills, Texans, Jets, Washington, and perhaps the Eagles would be teams that one would think may offer a lot for Brees. Brees’ cap hit in a trade, assuming no extension is reached, would be just $20 million(guaranteed), which is certainly affordable. Given his potential value there really is no reason for a bad team to insert Brees back into the lineup if there is any type of lingering injury that could destroy his trade value.

Brees may get this team an extra few wins, but if it won’t lead to the playoffs the risk would be too high to the Saints future. They need to be extremely cautious with him. If this truly means missing a few weeks they should strongly consider the option of shutting him down and moving forward for them as they finalize their teardown in 2016.