July 16th, 2012
News broke Friday that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had finally been given the deal he was waiting to be offered—five years, $100 million. Of that, $60 million is guaranteed and $40 will actually be paid in the first year of the contract.
Upon the announcement, football fans everywhere joined in the amazement of the Earth-shattering contract. Many deemed it unfair, others simply amazed. Others went as far as to question its validity. Some called it barely legal.
None of those quips ultimately matter though. The Saints’ organization and Drew Brees’ camp got the thing finished, signed, sealed and the delivery will almost certainly be one or two more Super Bowl titles for the city of New Orleans by the time Brees’ record-setting career is completed.
If anyone is concerned about Brees not living up to this magnificent deal, they would be well-advised to remember his past performance.
Remember how a chip still resides on his shoulder from gaining only two college scholarship offers, how he was mysteriously a second-round pick in the NFL after a record-setting college career or the way he responded to being slighted by the San Diego Chargers, not once but twice in the span of two seasons (seeing the team draft Eli Manning and trade for Philip Rivers and then not offer him a contract after the Pro Bowler killed his shoulder in a meaningless Week 17 game at home against Denver on New Year’s Eve).
In other words, Brees will be fine. His character is as high as anyone’s in the entire game. His work ethic and leadership is legendary in the Crescent City. And there is no doubt he will continue to work hard for those who are less privileged.
All those things are close to automatic. What is not so clear is the economic impact Drew Brees’ contract will have on the Saints organization, or the NFL at large.
Included in the agreement between the teams is a stipulation that would allow for the team to release Brees after the 2013 season and save itself $40 million over the course of the deal. That’s a nice thought in the unlikely circumstance of a career-ending injury. But let’s be real—neither party would have agreed to this deal if they were not committed to the entirety of the five-year framework.
The likely result of the five-year pact will be a 38-year old Drew Brees ending his career in black and gold after winning a few more titles, setting many more records and cementing a legacy that even the boldest and most illogical hater could not trash.
That is the first effect the Brees deal will have on the NFL—the New Orleans Saints will continue to win football games at a pace the franchise never knew prior to his reincarnation in the Bayou.
The Saints will continue to be the prominent team in the NFC South for the next five years. That means the efforts of division rivals—Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay—will all be for naught.
Matt Ryan might continue forever as a nice quarterback who wins many regular-season games. But when matched up against Drew Brees, he and the Falcons have won just one time in four seasons. The Saints’ dominance over the Falcons will continue.
Tampa Bay and Carolina have had slightly more success over the years against Drew Brees and the Saints. Josh Freeman and Cam Newton are two of the most naturally gifted passers in the NFL. Both combine great size and athleticism with canons and leadership gifts.
But Drew Brees is the veteran signal-caller in the division with the NFL offensive player of the year, multiple Pro Bowls and, most importantly, a Super Bowl MVP to his name. He has done everything under the sun (or a roof) in the NFL.
Those experiences will serve him and the team well as it looks to continue its dominance of the NFC South over the course of the next five seasons. If it can do so, effectively Cam Newton, Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan will not ascend to the top of the league as each possesses the talent to do.
None of the South division teams will make the mark on the league each is capable of with good leaders in Ron Rivera, Greg Schiano and Mike Smith. That’s the effect of the Brees signing. The NFC South will continue to be dominated by the New Orleans Saints.
Economically, the deal will have a larger impact on the entire National Football League. Starting with the opposing NFC South quarterbacks, the three starters will continue to be paid handsomely. Each team will continue to pretend it possesses a franchise QB. While one of the three may be, it’s nearly impossible for a team to make the playoffs once every three years (which assumes the three teams rotate turns in second place of the NFC South and finish top six overall in the conference) and contend they have a franchise QB.
Sure, winning is not the only way to measure a quarterback (the team absolutely must possess talent around him), but if he is not winning regularly, we all know a quarterback is subject to criticism and will eventually be replaced.
Each of the three NFC South teams have talent around their signal-caller. None of the teams possess the talent level of New Orleans though.
It all means the division rivals must make a choice. Do they continue to pay top dollar for a player not winning division titles or look for an immediately cheaper solution and try to build for the future through the draft?
League-wide, franchises will be affected by this deal as well. Just in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and New York Giants have quarterbacks who joined Drew Brees in throwing for 4,600-plus yards in 2011 (the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers brought up the rear among this group yet put up 4,643 and had an amazing 45 touchdowns to just six interceptions and an NFL record 122.5 QB rating).
Rodgers and the Giants’ Eli Manning have both won Super Bowl titles. Matthew Stafford just led the Detroit Lions to their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Rodgers is set to make $8 million in 2012. Stafford will make $10.5 million in 2012.
Eli Manning is 31 years of age, if you can believe it, and will only make $1.75 million in 2012. In other words, Manning’s contract with the New York Giants is eerily similar to the one Brees just signed with the Saints. Both players’ salaries are small in comparison to the money they actually receive from the team.
The deal Manning signed with the Giants in 2009 made him the eighth quarterback in NFL history to make $100 million or more. The deal runs through 2015. At that point Eli figures to sign a handful of one-year deals until the team decides it’s time to move in another direction at the position.
But for a player like Aaron Rodgers, who has two years remaining on his current contract, the Packers and Rodgers’ representatives have been given an archetype to model their negotiations upon. Rodgers and Brees have both won football games and taken their team to the promised land.
They are regarded by many football experts as the two best quarterbacks in the game today. But with the NFL preparing to begin a new television contract leading to a higher salary cap, the framework of Aaron Rodgers’ next deal ought to be greater than the one just signed by Brees.
Then there’s the interesting case of Matthew Stafford. Alongside Calvin Johnson, Stafford figures to be one of the preeminent fantasy quarterbacks in the NFL for the next 10-plus years.
But is he really on par with Brees, Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton and Eli Manning? Maybe in time he will prove to be.
At this point in July 2012 though, Stafford has still only had one great NFL season. He does not have the track record of any of the great ones in the game today. The Lions are a talented football team, but their talent level does not compare to that of the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints or New York Giants.
Over the next few years we shall gain a better understanding of whether Stafford and Co. can win the games that really matter. Stafford was among a contingent of Lions veterans who restructured their current deals in the 2012 offseason to help the team afford all of the talented players on their team.
His rookie deal was originally estimated at nearly $42 million guaranteed with the possibility of reaching $78 million. He could easily gain a similar deal or better when his current contract runs out in three years.
It’s important to note that Stafford’s original rookie contract was higher than Brees’ deal signed back in 2006. Other rookie deals signed by Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford made Brees’ deal look silly, too.
Now, Brees is back on top of the league from a financial perspective. The second-best quarterback, according to most experts, is now making the most money per year of any quarterback.
Rodgers figures to follow along and take that title sometime in the next 24 months.
For now, the NFL’s most underrated quarterback (by much of the national media, though certainly not all) is at the top of his field in the salary department.
From 2006 to 2011, Brees led the league in passing yards and touchdowns. He’s thrown for at least 4,300 yards in each of those seasons and for four years running has gone over 30 touchdown passes.
The benefits for him and his team over the next five years figure to be plentiful as he continues those patterns. The Saints truly expect to win many games and more titles. They also expect to put their first quarterback in the Hall of Fame and to boast of one of the best economic deals in NFL History.
That the team only has to charge approximately $10 million on its 2012 cap while Brees still gets his money is genius on the part of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis.
The future is bright in New Orleans. By deduction, the future isn’t quite so bright for the other 31 franchises in football. But it is quite bright for the men leading those teams by throwing the football.
Brees’ deal will only help the league’s best quarterbacks and their bank accounts.
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