It's been the elephant in the room for quite some time now and no one locally seems prepared to broach it, so I'm now going to come out and ask it - have we gotten to the point in the ongoing Drew Brees negotiations saga where it might seem like he's the one holding this up?
What we think we know:
- The Saints offered Brees a 5 year, $95 million deal at some point this offseason, which was turned down ($19 million anually). It was said Brees wanted $23 million anually, but Brees later refuted that saying that number was heavily inflated. The national media has since claimed that Brees initially wanted $20.5 million anually, and has since come down to $20.3 million annually.
- The Saints more recently formulated a new offer to Brees, higher than the 5 year, $95 million original offer. It is apparently between $19 million and $20 million anually, and closer to the higher end of that range. Brees and his agent, Tom Condon, have not responded to the new offer as far as we know.
- Peyton Manning received 5 years, $90 million in 2011 from the Colts. This year he received 5 years, $96 million from the Broncos. That said, the Colts had a team option out clause after year one, and the Broncos have a physical pending after year one that, if failed, could void the contract. Presumably, Brees would have neither of those things. Brees' current offer almost assuredly tops $96 million over 5 years.
- Tom Brady's latest contract was a 4 year, $72 million extension.
- Tom Brady makes $18 million, on average anually, for the life of his deal.
- Peyton Manning makes $19.2 million, on average anually, for the life of his deal... but with less guarantees.
- Drew Brees has been offered more than both players as things currently stand, and reportedly more money in the first 3 years with more guarantees. The second part of that sentence is not confirmed, but it is strongly presumed.
- Andrew Brandt writes an article about this very topic that is a must read. He believes, when the dust settles, Brees will end up with ~$20 million anually, with $50 million - $52 million guaranteed and $60 million - $62 million over the first 3 years.
So what's the hold up? As we've been made aware of for some time now, part of the problem is a ruling of interpretation by the NFL that is set to come at the end of June. Brees' camp wants to know what the value of a third franchise tag would cost and use that figure as leverage in contract discussions. This is the first time Brees has been tagged by the Saints, but he's also been tagged once by the Chargers and played under that contract. The question of interpretation, then, is if the severe increases apply to a team only if they individually tag a player three times, or if it applies if a player has been tagged three times in his career regardless of the team. The Saints believe the former, Brees believes the latter, hence the dispute and the demand for clarification. The thinking from Brees' end is that if the Saints tag him again next year and the severe price increase applies, it would be much cheaper to sign him to a long term deal now than to give him a one year deal for $23 million plus next year. Brees would gain bargaining power in that scenario, which could inflate his offer.
So back to my original question: is Drew Brees being greedy? My answer will disappoint some, if not most of you, but I'm starting to believe that he is. The two things I don't like about how this has played out is Tom Condon (and Brees by extension) attempting to get leverage by exploiting the technicality of language, and Brees' agenda. Brees' agenda is not just about personal gain and wealth, it's also about his crusade for the NFLPA and his self felt duty to raise the bar for his peers. To me, that just isn't the Saints' problem. The reality of the situation is that Brees is under a franchise tag, so the cards are naturally in the Saints' hands. If Brees was an unrestricted free agent then he'd be free to drive his value up till the cows came home, but he's not. They don't have to make him an offer as generous as 5 years and over $96 million. They could send him a 4 year $50 million deal and say "take that, or take the franchise tender, we don't really care". Brees' only leverage is to threaten a hold out. What the Saints have offered is more than fair, and Brees doesn't have the power to dictate Manning/Brady money because he's handcuffed by the franchise tag and he's not in an open market. He can ask for it, sure, but he can't threaten to go elsewhere if he doesn't get it. He can only threaten to hold out. The fact that the Saints are offering him more than those two quarterbacks anyway should be enough.
Instead of just accepting the latest more than fair offer the Saints have formulated, Brees is now waiting till late June for the interpretation of the NFL, so he can try to milk the Saints for a few million extra. So we'll continue to approach July 16th, the deadline for this deal to happen before Brees has to decide between a franchise tag contract for one year and a hold out. Regardless of what side of the fence you stand on, the "just pay the man" routine is inching closer to "just take it, Drew".
Just take it, Drew.