- Chris Mortensen, NFL reporter
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If Drew Brees does not have a long-term contract in place by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, the New Orleans Saints quarterback has no plans to sign his franchise tender and report to training camp, according to league and team sources.
Brees and the Saints must work out a long-term contract by July 16 or he will be required to play the 2012 season under his $16.371 million exclusive-rights franchise tender that restricts the free agent from signing with another team.
However, sources say Brees has made it clear to confidants that he will not sign the tender and report to Saints training camp when it begins July 24. The sources also said that even though Brees is on record as saying he won't miss the regular season, he may leave the Saints guessing as to whether he will report in time for the team's opener against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 9.
Under the league's current collective bargaining agreement, Brees would have until the Tuesday after the 10th regular-season game to sign his tender or he would be prohibited from playing the remainder of the season. If Brees misses any games, his 2012 salary would be a prorated amount of the $16.371 million based on the number of games remaining once he signs his tender.
Further complicating matters, arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled last Tuesday that this tender marked the second time Brees had been tagged. Burbank also clarified that the CBA was intended for a player to be franchised no more than three times in his career. The decision means that if Brees signs the tender this year and the Saints franchise him again in 2013, the team must offer Brees a 44 percent raise to a $23.57 million salary next season.
Brees is seeking an average of $20.5 million per year, sources said, and is justifying his position based on his performance during his six years with the Saints, which included a Super Bowl MVP after Brees led the franchise to its first title during the 2009 season.
Neither side offered immediate comment. A Saints official acknowledged the differences between the two sides but was hopeful the gap could be bridged between now and next Monday.
The Saints believe their offer satisfies the standard that will make Brees the highest-paid quarterback in the league. However, Manning's contract and $19.2 million average salary was accomplished within 24 hours after he chose Denver. Manning also refused to use other teams' interest to leverage a higher salary, despite Titans owner Bud Adams stating he was willing to pay Manning a significantly higher salary and provide him with a lifetime contract.
Brees, 33, is also three years younger than Manning, who has undergone four neck surgeries prior to signing with the Broncos after missing the entire 2011 season with the Colts.
Brees has played the past six years with the Saints, earning an average of $10 million per season after signing an option contract with New Orleans following a catastrophic shoulder injury on his final play with the San Diego Chargers in 2005, which Brees played under his first franchise tag. While the Saints offered Brees a significant deal at the time, the quarterback's contract also contained a team option following the first season of the deal that gave New Orleans the right to drop Brees after 2006 or enact the final five years of the deal. Renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery on the quarterback's shoulder, said Brees' recovery "was a once-in-a-million shot ... a tribute to his relentless rehab."
Brees has strongly stated his desire to finish his career with the Saints, but he does not want to play with the risk of a one-year contract after his experience with the Chargers.
The Saints have countered that their offer is fair and they are trying to protect the integrity of the salary cap and their roster, although it would be even more compromised if Brees played for the franchise tender of $16.37 million this year and $23.57 million in 2013. A long-term contract could be structured to provide the team with some cap relief in the first two years of the deal before spiking in 2014 when the salary cap would rise after the league's new television rights contracts take effect.
With Monday's deadline looming, sources said there is still work remaining on both the structure of the deal and the amount of guaranteed money.
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