Johnson and Cook just combined to give Brees and his agent, noted leverage-meister Tom Condon, all sorts of ammunition for their upcoming talks with the Saints. That's because in the spectrum of NFL contracts, it is extremely rare that a star quarterback is outranked in earnings by a player from any other position. Moreover, the difference in pay for elite quarterbacks is usually significant.
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For now, Johnson's eight-year, $132 million deal with $53.25 million guaranteed is the type of contract that resets the marketplace for all top players. Shortly, defensive end Mario Williams could do the same with a deal from the Buffalo Bills or another franchise.
All of that has a huge impact on Brees, who right now is sitting with a one-year contract offer after being tagged as New Orleans' exclusive "franchise" player, meaning no other team can offer him a contract. Under those terms, Brees will eventually make somewhere between $15 million and $16 million in 2012.
While no one is going to shed tears for Brees, Saints fans should be concerned. The longer this situation plays out, the more expensive it's going to get for New Orleans. Waiting this long to get a deal done only makes the process more expensive. That's because there is a clear relationship between the pay of the top quarterbacks in the league and players at any other position, particularly when it comes to long-term deals.
Need proof? Look at the "franchise" number for quarterbacks and the top-paid players at any other position over the years. In 2011, the franchise number for quarterbacks was $16.2 million. The next highest was $13.5 million for cornerbacks.
In 2010, it was $16.4 million for quarterbacks and $12.4 million for defensive ends. In 2009, it was a staggering difference of nearly $5 million: $14.6 million for passers and $9.96 million for cornerbacks. In 2008, it was a slight difference: $10.7 million for signal callers and $9.46 million for cornerbacks. In 2007, it was $12.6 million versus $9.55 million for offensive linemen.
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In short, the percentage difference between top quarterbacks and the top players at any other position has ranged between 13 and 47 percent over the past five years. And while the franchise number is not an apples-to-apples comparison when singling out Johnson and Brees, the underlying point remains: If Johnson can make that kind of money at wide receiver, Brees deserves that much more at quarterback.
Here's the Saints’ biggest problem in this process: General manager Mickey Loomis has historically been a guy who allows the marketplace to set contract parameters for him. In 2006, for instance, Loomis didn't get a deal done with No. 2 overall pick Reggie Bush until both No. 1 pick Mario Williams and No. 3 pick Vince Young were done. There have been rare moments when he's done otherwise, such as when the team signed guard Jahri Evans to the most lucrative deal ever for a guard two years ago. Or there was the post-Katrina deals that Loomis did for the likes of Brees, who the team took a chance on despite his surgically repaired shoulder.
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Now, Loomis is trying to get a long-term deal done with Brees, maintaining that the market is somewhere in the range of $18 million a year. That's a nice try, but it's easily going to be more than $20 million per year (Brees and Condon are looking for roughly $23 million). The Johnson deal only proves that point. Williams, who is also represented by Condon's CAA agency, could reset the market even further.
Meanwhile, Loomis and the Saints continue to twiddle their thumbs, hoping that the price will magically come down.
Instead, this is what's coming down the pike: Brees is unlikely to sign the franchise tender and isn't likely to report for the start of the team's offseason program. Expect the team's leader and most important player to sit around and wonder.
"I've played under the franchise tag before, back in 2005, and that ended with 13 anchors in my right shoulder and a 25 percent chance of playing football again," Brees said Wednesday during an interview with ESPN's Mike & Mike Show. "That didn't work out too well for me. I've talked to the Saints about this many times. They definitely know my desire to have a long-term deal, and hopefully they want me to have that as well. We will continue discussions and hopefully get a long-term deal done."
[ Drew Brees: 'This is a very critical period' ]
In other words, Brees would be a fool to show up again without a new deal. Moreover, in this league, the quarterback isn't the guy to mess with, particularly one who has done as much for both his team and his city as Brees. This kind of standoff sends an incredibly bad message to the rest of the locker room. In essence, if a guy like Brees can't get paid what he's worth, will the team ever be willing to pay anyone?
Clearly, the Evans and Marques Colston deals should say otherwise, but the last impression is the most important and Brees is currently the last impression for anyone to go on.
Plenty of fans counter this situation by claiming that if Brees was really a good team player, he would give the Saints a discount. Nice try, but that's not how it works. When the quarterback gives a discount, every player is expected to do the same. In New England, many Patriots players have been frustrated over the years by quarterback Tom Brady's refusal to leverage New England into a monster deal.
Regardless, the point is: The price for Brees isn't going down anytime soon. It's only going up and the Saints would be well served to solve the problem sooner than later.
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