The New Orleans Saints have at least two more seasons with quarterback Drew Brees, and can temporarily put off the decision on what happens after the 2017 season.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that Brees’ extension is finally done, and he’s getting a ton. Brees will make $44.25 million guaranteed between 2016 and 2017, Rapoport said. The extension adds just one year onto Brees’ deal. ESPN’s Ed Werder said the extension is technically for five years but automatically voids to just two. Brees’ deal was slated to expire after this season. Now it will void after the 2017 season, Werder reported, giving Brees more guaranteed money and the Saints more salary cap room for this year. Pro Football Talk said there’s a no-trade clause and a no-franchise tag clause.
A longer deal right now would have been risky for the Saints, even for one of the all-time great quarterbacks who is coming off his NFL record sixth passing title last season. The problem is that Brees is getting to an age in which most quarterbacks start to fade, if they haven’t already.
Brees turns 38 next Jan. 15. Among the quarterbacks who retired at age 38: John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, Y.A. Tittle, Kurt Warner. The history of quarterbacks playing well at age 39 and beyond is scary. Only one quarterback who was at least 39 (minimum 50 passes) posted a rating of 95 according to pro-football-reference.com, and that was Brett Favre with a 107.2 rating in 2009 for the Minnesota Vikings. Only four quarterbacks who are 39 or older have posted a rating of at least 90 (Sonny Jurgensen in 1974, Warren Moon in 1995, Vinny Testaverde in 2003 and Len Dawson in 1975).
Brees has been so great through his Saints career that perhaps he’s the one to beat that history. He doesn’t rely on other-worldly physical gifts, so once he starts slowing down (and he will) perhaps it won’t be as catastrophic as it is for others. But the flip side of that argument is he has less margin for error than other quarterbacks. Now the Saints have another year to figure out what to do.
Brees’ age put the Saints in an odd spot for this extension. Brees’ enormous contract, which includes a staggering $30 million cap hit this season, was expiring. They were facing the possibility of the 2015 passing yardage leader becoming a free agent next offseason. Beyond that, it’s arguable that no player has meant more to a franchise than Brees has for the Saints. Were the Saints going to let Brees hit free agency, when he hasn’t yet shown any signs of slowing down? Brees said he wasn’t going to negotiate into the regular season, setting an artificial deadline of Week 1 for the Saints to get something done.
When it came down to it, the Saints gave Brees a ton of guaranteed money and pushed the decision another year down the road. The other option — watching Brees spend 2017 and beyond with another team — wasn’t something the Saints wanted to see happen.
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