If the NFL Players Association is right, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees could gain some serious leverage against the team.
Brees was franchised by the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and was designated as such by the Saints this offseason. If the 2005 tag counts as being franchised a second time under the current collective bargaining agreement, his one-year tender would jump drastically in 2013 if the two sides fail to agree on a long-term deal and New Orleans tags him again next year.
This offseason, Brees has been tendered a one-year contract for $16.371 million that he has yet to sign. The two sides are seemingly far apart on agreeing to a long-term deal. Failing to reach one would open the door for Brees to be franchised by the Saints again next year.
Under the standard formula, Brees would get another 20 percent raise of the average top five quarterbacks' salaries, earning him around $19.645 million. The Saints have been using those figures as the base of a long-term contract offer that averages between $17 million and $18 million.
However, if the union is correct in its CBA interpretation and 2013 would count as the third time Brees has been franchised, his cap number would be $23.574 million. Under the terms of the CBA, a player who is franchised three times gets at least a 44 percent increase in his salary.
The issue then comes down to interpreting the language of the CBA. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello would not clarify how the NFL Management Council views the situation. If the council interprets Brees' franchise tag with the Chargers not being governed by the current CBA, the union would have to prove otherwise. In the meantime, Brees' representation is looking to use the inflated figure as leverage for a more favorable long-term deal now.
"I don't think the Saints are counting on that situation," a source said of Brees possibly having a $23 million-plus franchise tag. "I think [New Orleans general manager] Mickey Loomis is crunching some much lower numbers than that."
Loomis is also trying to crunch some different logic with his fellow executives. Last week, two executives from other teams said Loomis was saying he intended to keep Brees' contract in line with being "one of the top five quarterbacks in the league."
"I think Mickey has dug himself in on his logic and there's no way to get him out of that thinking right now," the source said. "That's why they are where they are right now."
In February, Loomis told at least three sources that Brees was a "very good" quarterback after another executive called Brees "great."
Although Loomis promised last week that a new deal would be done, Brees has repeatedly expressed "frustration" with the process, and two other sources said there has been little movement by either side over the past two months.
For Brees' part, those sources have said that he likely will not sign the franchise tag at all. That's hard to believe, but Brees' ultimate leverage play would be to not show up at all this season as the Saints deal with the aftereffects of the bounty scandal.
Another team executive said part of the problem right now is psychological.
"There's no reason for either side to back down because the automatic response is to ask, 'Why would you back down now if you wouldn't back down three months ago?' For one side to agree would be acknowledging they lost and these kinds of negotiations are always better when both sides can walk away and claim some victory," the executive said. "If Brees takes less, people will say, 'Why did you stay away from the offseason?' If the Saints give more, people will say, 'Why didn't you do this before so we could re-sign [guard Carl] Nicks?' "
Both executives indicated that the game of chicken with Brees is somewhat silly on New Orleans' part.
"In this league, the five or six star players on your team are the ones who drive your team. Those players can pretty much demand whatever they want," one of the executives said. "You either have a great quarterback who you're paying $19 [million] or $20 million per year or you have a mediocre quarterback … who you're paying $13 million."
In the case of Brees, the difference between paying $18 million per year versus $20 million per year is really negligible in the grand scheme.
"When you have a cap of $120 million, the trick is to know where you can make up that $2 million a year. You can find it somewhere; that's not the hard part," one of the executives said. "The hard part is getting a great player like Brees and getting him under a long-term deal. … Some fans think there's a big difference between a linebacker who makes $3 million per year and one who makes $2 million per year. There isn't. But there's a big difference between quarterbacks."
Or as the other executive said: "I would like to be in the position that the Saints are in. It's not a problem to have a great quarterback, even if you think it's a problem in paying him."
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