The New Orleans Saints face one of the most delicate free-agent deals in the NFL this year as quarterback Drew Brees is eligible to hit the market on March 14. With Brees saying he wants to finish his career with the Saints, and with the Saints needing him to contend in 2018, it should be simple enough for the two sides to come to terms. But, before Saints executives meet with Brees' agent, Tom Condon, this week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, let's review some of the key aspects of a potential deal. Timing March 14. Hammer that date into your head, Saints fans. If the Saints and Brees don't reach agreement by March 14, it will be costly in terms of what the team can accomplish in free agency this year. Due to salary cap issues in prior years, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has had to get creative with Brees' most recent contracts, particularly the last deal in September 2016. Although that contract was mostly touted as a one-year extension to keep Brees through the end of 2017, it was actually a four-year extension with the final three years voiding automatically on March 14 this year. So, if March 14 arrives without a new deal, Brees will count for $18 million in dead cap space for 2018. Essentially, the Saints made the deal in September 2016 with little cap space to work with in 2016 or 2017, so they made this deal with shell years to push some of the cap charges to the future. The move helped reduce Brees' cap hit in 2016 from $30 million to $17.25 million, which gave them extra operating funds to sign free agents during the season, and because unused cap space carries over to the next season, the deal also helped give the Saints money in 2017. Brees had a $19 million cap hit in 2017 with that contract. However, in order to reduce those cap hits to manageable numbers the past two years, Loomis had to be creative. Brees' extension included a $30 million signing bonus, which is spread evenly across the length of the contract -- $6 million each for 2016-20. So, each of the extra three years from the most recent, 2018-20, contract include a $6 million charge for that signing bonus, but when the contract voids, all three charges will escalate into the 2018 cap, leaving $18 million in dead money. The Saints right now have about $31.8 million in cap space for 2018, according to overthecap.com. That number includes the $6 million charge for Brees in 2018 because, right now, that money is considered to be his cap hit. However, if the Saints don't sign Brees by March 14, they'll lose an extra $12 million in cap space, lowering their space to $19.8 million for 2018 and limiting what they can add in free agency. If the Saints and Brees sign a new contract before March 14, it will surely include similar shell years to the previous deal to push some or all of that $18 million down the road. Because of this dead cap situation, Brees' leverage over the Saints is incredible. He and his agent know that it's imperative for the Saints to sign him before March 14, so if the Saints lowball him before then, Brees testing the open market would hurt the Saints in more ways than one. Of course, if Brees wants to stay, which he's said several times that he does, then it's in his best interest to sign before March 14 to help the Saints add more players in free agency. Cost Determining Brees' value is no easy task. On one hand, he's still among the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He set a record for completion percentage in 2017 at 72 percent, and his 103.9 passer rating ranked second in the league. On the other hand, he's 39, and the Saints have to use his age to their advantage when negotiating a deal. In terms of average annual value, San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo leads all quarterbacks as his deal from earlier this month will pay him $27.5 million per year. Detroit's Matthew Stafford is right behind at $27 million.
What you need to know about Drew Brees' upcoming contract negotiations
New Orleans Times-Picayune | Feb 28