After a distraction-filled offseason, the New Orleans Saints and their anxious fans figured the team was due for some good news.
They got it Friday, just 11 days before players report to training camp, when star quarterback Drew Brees agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract that makes the 12-year veteran the highest-paid player in NFL history.
The agreement between Brees and the Saints came as the two sides were facing a 4 p.m. Monday deadline for players who received the franchise tag to work out long-term deals with their respective teams.
If the 33-year-old Brees had not come to terms on a new contract, he would have had to play the upcoming season for the exclusive franchise tender of $16.371 million he received when he was tagged March 3. His only other option would have been to sit out all or part of the season.
Citing sources, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported just after noon Friday that Brees and the Saints had reached agreement on a contract that includes $40 million in guaranteed money for the 2012 season and $15 million in guaranteed earnings in 2013.
Another $5 million is guaranteed in the third year of the contract in 2014, pushing the guaranteed total to an NFL-record $60 million.
Brees took to Twitter shortly before 1 p.m. to announce he had agreed to the long-term contract.
“Deal is Done! Love you, Who Dat Nation. See you soon,” he tweeted.
“With a contract like this, people can say they’re paying me what you earned or what you deserved. In my mind, I always feel like I’ve got to go out every day and earn it and show people why you’re at that level,” Brees said in an interview Friday night with the Saints’ radio network, WWL. “I can tell you from the start of this negotiation, I have not thought once about, ‘Hey, I want to be the highest-paid guy or what have you.’ ... It was more about trying to look truly, just objectively, at the numbers the last decade for a top-tier quarterback and where it has been and where it is going and just trying to do what is fair and justified.”
Later, the Saints issued a statement from owner Tom Benson on reaching an accord with Brees, the Super Bowl XLIV MVP and two-time Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
“Congratulations are in order for our organization, our city, Drew and Brittany (Brees), and certainly for (General Manager) Mickey Loomis and his staff for all of the hard work put in to make this possible,” Benson said. “Now we must turn our focus to getting ready for the start of training camp and to keeping with our goal of being the first team in NFL history to host and play in a Super Bowl.”
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said, “What Drew has accomplished in his time with the Saints, he deserves to be the highest-paid player in the league. We are excited to have this deal done and behind us and look forward to the next five years with Drew as our quarterback.”
The $20 million average for the length of the contract surpasses the five-year, $96 million contract and $19.2 million average former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning got from the Denver Broncos in May.
Three other quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Michael Vick — all have received big contracts in the past three years.
Brady signed a four-year extension worth $72 million in 2010, while Vick is working on a five-year, $80 million deal he received last summer. Eli Manning signed a seven-year, $106.9 million contract in 2009.
Their deals average $18 million, $16 million and $15.27 million, respectively.
In his six years with the Saints, Brees has been the most productive quarterback in the NFL with 28,394 passing yards and 201 touchdowns and a 98.5 passer rating.
Last season, Brees shattered Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season passing record of 5,084 yards when he threw for 5,476 yards with 46 TDs and broke his own NFL record in completing 71.2 percent of his passes.
Brees came up just short of Marino’s record in 2008 with 5,069 yards and last season became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards twice.
But after the Saints ended the season with a 36-32 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 14, things got sticky when the Saints designated Brees as their franchise player.
After originally saying he wouldn’t play for the one-year tender over fear of suffering a career-ending injury, Brees, a five-time Pro Bowl pick with the Saints, said he would never sit out a season.
Mortensen, however, reported this week that Brees would not report for the start of training camp on July 24 if he didn’t have a long-term deal in place.
According to sources, Mortensen said the Saints were offering $19.25 million a year while Brees and agent Tom Condon were seeking a deal averaging about $20.5 million per season.
Brees received a favorable ruling from an arbitrator who said last week that if the Saints franchised him again in 2013, he would be due about $23.5 million in salary — which meant he would earn an average of $20 million for the next two seasons anyway.
Brees’ concerns about playing on a short-term deal stemmed from a shoulder injury he suffered in the 2005 season finale while with the San Diego Chargers when he was playing on a one-year franchise tender.
His career nearly ended when an opposing player mangled Brees’ throwing shoulder as they scrambled to recover a fumble, but the Saints took a chance on the still-recovering quarterback and signed him to a six-year, $60 million contract in March 2006.
That season, Brees teamed with first-year head coach Sean Payton to lead the Saints to their first NFC Championship game with a powerful offense that boosted the spirits of a region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina just one year earlier.
In 2009, after starting 13-0, the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV with Brees sparking a 31-17 win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. That set off the most productive three-year span in franchise history as the Saints won 41 games — counting the playoffs — from 2009-11.
Friday’s positive news, however, came after a troubling offseason for the Saints.
In March, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said a three-year investigation showed former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and more than two dozen of his players were involved in a pay-for-performance scheme in which Saints defenders intentionally tried to injure opposing players.
The bounty scandal resulted in season-long suspensions for Payton and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, while Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt received bans of eight and six games, respectively. Also, defensive end Will Smith will sit out the first four games of the season.
Payton, Loomis and Vitt were suspended, Goodell said, because they either misled investigators or didn’t do enough to stop what was happening in their locker room.
In April, Loomis was implicated in an ESPN report that said he eavesdropped on opposing coaches from his press-box level suite in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2002, an allegation he has denied, and Payton last month filed for divorce from his wife of 20 years.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.
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