No NFL negotiation in recent years has been more perplexing than the ongoing talks between the Saints and Drew Brees. I expected Brees to sign soon after Tom Brady's 2010 contract, then soon after Peyton Manning's 2011 contract and then soon after Peyton Manning's 2012 contract. Yet the sides are still trying to find common ground.
Negotiations are about leverage and options. As for leverage, Brees is the most important player on the team and perhaps the most important person in his division. However, because of the franchise tag, his options are limited. The tag gives the Saints a tool -- strengthened by the collective bargaining agreement -- to artificially reduce the market value of their unsigned best player.
Both sides are entrenched, with experienced negotiators representing their best interests. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has refused to react impulsively to this downbeat offseason, and agent Tom Condon has worked out many elite contracts, including two recent ones for Peyton Manning. At some point, he will also negotiate a blockbuster contract for Eli Manning.
Knowing Condon, he is anchored at a number, waiting for the Saints to meet that threshold. I suspect that number is above $20 million per year on average (APY).
Although there are comparable deals for Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick and others, those deals are either under market for Brees or outdated. Let's go inside the three most relevant contracts and look at the two sides' negotiating positions.
Manning-Broncos (2012): 5 years, $96 million, pending physical after Year 1
Condon argues that this $19.2 million APY was for a player who hadn't played football since 2010 and who was facing myriad questions about his future.
Loomis sees this as the freshest data point. With all money but the first year tied to injury protections for the Broncos, Loomis notes it can be viewed as a one-year, $18 million deal.
Condon bristles at this suggestion, as Manning took less money with the Broncos, both in total contract value and guarantees, than he could have received in places such as Seattle, Tennessee and Miami.
Manning-Colts (2011): 5 years, $90 million, team option after Year 1
Rather than $90 million over five years, Condon highlights the key time frame -- $70.2 million over the first three years, a staggering APY of $23.4 million. Condon argues this deal was negotiated by him and is more relevant than the Broncos contract, as Peyton hadn't played in a year before signing with Denver.
Loomis tries to remove this contract from the discussion, distinguishing it as a one-year deal that was terminated by the Colts prior to the option clause.
Tom Brady-Patriots (2010): 4-year extension, $72 million
Condon will point to the $18 million APY with $48.5 million guaranteed in the Brady deal as reflective of the market two years ago and therefore outdated as an accurate data point.
Loomis will note that, at the time of Brady's contract, the Patriots had no cap limitations since there was no cap (don't tell that to the Redskins and Cowboys), unlike the tight financial situation the Saints are in now. Loomis will also mention Brady's résumé of three Super Bowl victories.
Beyond these deals, Condon notes (1) recent guarantee levels above $40 million for non-quarterbacks such as Haloti Ngata, Mario Williams and Calvin Johnson; (2) expected top-of-market extensions ahead for Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning; (3) Brees age -- three years younger than Peyton Manning and two years younger than Brady; and (4) Brees' durability, having never missed a game as a Saint while averaging more than 10 wins per season.
Having negotiated Brett Favre's contract when he was the face of the Packers, I know how sensitive these talks are. Loomis must proceed tactfully, using a long relationship with Condon to smooth his case. It's business.
The fact these negotiations have taken so long may indicate there's some tension in the positions adopted.
I sense Loomis has tried to keep Brees in the $19 million APY range that Manning received with the Broncos, as well as similar cash flow over the first two or three years, while Condon is anchored at more than $20 million per year, although it's not clear how far over that number.
Deadlines spur action, and the deadline in this case, due to tag requirements, is July 16. I expect the deal to be done between July 10-15 with a $20 million APY, between $50 million and $52 million guaranteed and $60 million to $62 million over the first three years.
Negotiations are not always a Brees (sorry)
From the inbox
Q: What did you think of Eagles president Joe Banner leaving? Was this a struggle with Andy Reid for power? -- Jeff in New Jersey
A: I know both men well and never sensed a power struggle. In a setup like the Eagles have -- I was in a similar one in Green Bay when Mike Sherman was coach/general manager -- Banner had to be the "bad guy." As head coach, Reid needed players to like and respect him. When uncomfortable decisions were made about moving on from players or lowering their pay, Banner took the heat, leaving Reid insulated. I do sense, though, that the Eagles want to be more agent friendly.
As for Banner, the job became stale. Eighteen years is a long time in one place, especially in the NFL. I was in Green Bay for nine years, half of Banner's tenure, and it felt like a few cycles. People, and teams, need reinvention. That is healthy.
What did you think about the bounty grievances against the NFL being dismissed? -- Roger in Buffalo, N.Y.
A: The NFLPA tried a couple of end runs around the CBA to somehow take the appeals power away from Roger Goodell, but ultimately these bounty appeals will end up where the CBA conduct policies put them for the next decade: in front of the commissioner. I admire the creativity of the NFLPA legal team, but I would put these grievances in the category of "what the heck, we might as well try."
Q: Now that these concussion suits have been filed, what is next on the calendar? -- Bill in Dallas
A: The NFL has until Aug. 9 to file a motion to dismiss the case, which I expect them to do. They will argue "preemption," that the CBA governs these issues and preempts the court from acting.
One interesting note: The NFL recently engaged a seasoned trial attorney with a background in mass tort litigation, Robert Heim of the Dechert law firm, perhaps indicating preparedness for a potential trial.