With everything that has happened to the New Orleans Saints this season, the one thing nobody could quite fathom was a future without the most important player in the history of a franchise that goes back to 1967. And after an extended game of contract chicken, the team finally loaded up and made quarterback Drew Brees the highest-paid player in the history of professional football.
"What Drew has accomplished in his time with the Saints, he deserves to be the highest paid player in the league," said Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis in a statement released by the team. "We are excited to have this deal done and behind us and look forward to the next five years with Drew as our QB."
"I think I said this before, it wasn't a question of 'if,' it was a question of 'when,'" suspended head coach Sean Payton told NOLA.com. "I'm excited. I'm excited and happy for him as well as the Saints. I think it's a good deal for both parties. I know a lot of work's gone into it, with [General Manager Mickey Loomis] and [Brees' agent] Tom Condon.
"I kind of look at things in a glass-half-full way. It just came down to the last couple days, and I felt confident all along that both parties would be able to work something out, and I'm happy they did."
Brees will discuss the deal at a July 24 press conference at the team's headquarters in Metairie, La.
Brees, who broke Dan Marino's single-season passing-yardage record in 2011, agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract with $60 million guaranteed in the first three years, and a stunning $40 million in the first year of the deal. The contract keeps Brees in New Orleans through his 36th birthday.
Had Brees not agreed with the Saints in a long-term contract, he would have played through the 2012 season as an exclusive-rights franchise player, making $16.37 million this season. But due to a recent appeal ruling which stated that the tag he received from the San Diego Chargers in 2005 was actually his first NFL tag -- making the 2012 tag his second no matter the team -- re-tagging him in 2013 would have been even more prohibitive. Per ESPN's Andrew Brandt, the contract will actually save the Saints almost $6 million in 2012 salary cap room from the franchise tag guarantee.
Brees, who will be the center of the offense especially with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the season in the bounty scandal, had threatened to hold out through training camp if a longer-term agreement was not struck.
In the end, the Saints had no choice but to come through, because losing Brees would have been a death blow. In 2011, he set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a 71.2 completion percentage. The Saints set an all-time single-season high in total offensive yards with 7,474.
He's no one-year wonder, either. Brees has led the NFL in completion percentage in each of the last three seasons, led the league in passing yards three different times since he came to New Orleans in 2006, led the league in pass completions three times since 2007, and has helped his offensive line with a series of preposterously low sack rates despite offensive lines that have cycled through personnel since his arrival.
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