Drew Brees was in Darren Sproles' ear three years ago when the two were working out together during the NFL lockout.

"Bro, you're going to be a Saint, just get that in your head right now," the New Orleans Saints' quarterback recalls telling his once and future teammate. "When this lockout is done, you're going to be a Saint."

Brees was right. Sproles signed a four-year, $14 million deal with New Orleans and, over next three seasons, compiled more than 3,000 total yards as a slippery dual threat with which head coach Sean Payton tinkered. But Sproles will not see the fourth year of his deal -- at least in New Orleans. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth-round pick and then signed a two-year extension.

The man who helped sell Sproles on the Saints is now disappointed to know his recruit is no longer with the club.

"I think a Darren Sproles only comes around once in your lifetime, in my career and in everybody's career," Brees told FOX Sports and USA Today Sports at the NFL Players Association player rep meetings. "There may be another one 15, 20 years from now. But there's not many guys like Darren Sproles. He's a special player, he's a special person, he's a special teammate. I'm lucky to have had the chance to play with him on two teams -- '05 in San Diego when we drafted him in the (fourth) round and three years in New Orleans."

As a member of the NFLPA's executive committee and a high-profile player who had a public contract squabble two years ago, Brees understands the business. But that didn't make the Saints' trading away Sproles any easier for him.

"That was one of the tougher ones for me," Brees said, adding: "I feel like that was my guy, that was my pick and I wanted that to last forever. But unfortunately, it didn't last forever."

Nothing lasts forever in the NFL these days. Case in point: the dismantling of the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV roster, which is nearly complete. Brees sighed as he rattled off the names of the six players from that team who are still Saints: Brees, punter Thomas Morstead, guard Jahri Evans, wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem (though Meachem left then returned), tackle Zach Strief and running back Pierre Thomas, the last two being players who just signed new long-term deals with the Saints.

"That's crazy. That was just four years ago," Brees said. "It's tough because a lot of those guys I've played with for eight years. Eight years. Which is rare. I'd say that's very rare in this day and age, to have that amount of time with a group of guys. You become very connected during that time, so it's always hard when you get to this point.

"It's going to be a new team in a lot of ways, a lot of young guys stepping up into roles that maybe they haven't been in before and it's where the new leaders emerge. You kind of forge a new identity a little bit."

That new identity will include an old face in Jimmy Graham. Well, at least Brees is confident it will.

Graham is a free agent who received the non-exclusive franchise tag. He's free to negotiate with other teams right now, though his asking price combined with the two first-round picks a team would have to give the Saints will likely scare off any potential offers. And there's still a matter of a potential grievance to be filed by the NFLPA on Graham's behalf to determine whether he should receive a franchise-tag salary equivalent to a tight end ($7.035 million) or a wide receiver ($12.312 million).