It was a fun dream while it lasted, but no, Drew Brees will not be an unrestricted free agent next March.
Seriously, can you imagine what that would have been like? Brees coming off just his average 5,000-yard, 38-touchdown season, unsigned by the New Orleans Saints, free to sign with any team? Just think of the free-for-all — the roster and salary-cap cartwheels we’d have seen from teams like the Jets, the 49ers, the Chiefs, the Bills, the Bears… heck, who knows? Maybe the Lions or the Falcons. Teams would have been firing coaches and bailing out of bad quarterback contracts like kids elbowing their friends out of the way at the ice cream truck.
Man, it would have been fun. Just like it would have been fun to see Andrew Luck hold out for full guarantees. Alas, it was not to be. Quarterback deals almost always work out the way you expect them to work out in the NFL, mainly because everybody’s got too much to lose.
From the Saints’ standpoint, this is the right move. Yeah, Brees is 37 and the group around him is nothing like it was in their Super Bowl heyday. They face major salary-cap issues in the next couple of years, with or without this deal. You could make the case that the right thing to do would be to move on. But any such case leads to a situation where the Saints don’t know who their quarterback is next year. And there’s nothing scarier for a team than that.
When you don’t know who your quarterback is, Howie Roseman can take your lunch money, your locker combination and that copy of the chemistry final you swiped off the teacher’s flash drive. It’s a bad situation. The Saints obviously weren’t feeling great about Garrett Grayson, next year’s draft will be the fifth in a row that doesn’t include Luck, and the best free agents on the market would be Kirk Cousins and Brees himself. Nobody wants to be lost in that particular wilderness. The Saints will stick with Brees until his arm falls off if that’s cool with him, and it appears it is.
Yes, the really interesting thing about this deal is how badly Brees apparently wanted it done. While it may have seemed fun from the outside to think about Brees on the open market, people close to Brees say it didn’t sound fun to him. He didn’t want to be seen as a guy trying to cash in one last time. He’s basically a New Orleans legend at this point — a very wealthy and comfortable one at that. So taking what amounts to a one-year, $24 million extension ended up being fine. It mattered to Brees that he stick it out with Sean Payton and the Saints in the hope that they could build the roster up around him just enough to make one more run.
I don’t know whether I have the heart to tell Brees this Saints team is a lot further away from title contention than he thinks it is, or that his best chance of adding a second Super Bowl ring to his jewelry case would have been to go somewhere else next year. That’s easier for me to say than it would be for him to do. Teams stick with their quarterbacks because they’re too scared to be without one. Quarterbacks stick with their teams when they’ve grown too comfortable for anything else to be worth it.
In the end, this was the right outcome for Brees and for the Saints, who are happy together no matter what else happens around them. But it’s another reminder that premium quarterbacks don’t move around much in the NFL. Because once you find one, it’s just about impossible to convince yourself to let him go.