Ruling favors Saints QB if he’s tagged again in ’13
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ victory in an arbitration ruling Tuesday should simplify negotiations between Brees and the organization on a new long-term contract.
Both sides are facing a July 16 deadline to finalize a long-term deal or Brees will play the 2012 season under the terms of the franchise tag that the Saints placed on him in March to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Though arbitrator Stephen Burbank’s ruling Tuesday doesn’t have a direct bearing on long-term talks or alter the value of this year’s tender for Brees, it clarifies what Brees would make next season if the same scenario would play out again and he would play the 2013 season under another franchise tender.
The NFLPA filed a grievance last week in Philadelphia based on ambiguity in the wording of the collective bargaining agreement that NFL owners and players signed in 2011. The terms of the CBA said a player who has the franchise tag placed on him a third time will receive a tender worth 144 percent of his previous season’s salary whereas as a player who is tagged for a second time will receive 120 percent of that salary.
The dispute arose over whether another tag by New Orleans in 2013 would be a second or third tag. It would be the second that the Saints placed on Brees but San Diego placed one on him in 2005. Burbank ruled that the language in the CBA means a third tag is a third tag even if the designations were brought by multiple teams.
His ruling means Brees’ salary under a 2013 franchise tag would be $23,574,240 rather than $19,645,200 if Burbank would have construed the tag as being just Brees’ second.
“We are very pleased that the arbitrator agreed with the NFLPA that the correct interpretation of the “third time” Franchise Player designation in the CBA applies across clubs, and a player’s rights will not be unfairly hindered if different clubs designate him as a Franchise Player during his career,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “The arbitrator properly rejected the NFL’s strained interpretation of the CBA language, which ignored the fact that a Franchise Player designation is a narrow exception to the overall free agency structure. This ruling will help all Franchise Players in the future.”
Brees and the Saints have both said they expect to reach a long-term deal before the July 16 deadline, which would make the value of a 2013 tender moot. Tuesday’s ruling could make it easier for both sides to reach that long-term deal.
Both sides now know that if Brees were to play for the franchise tender in both 2012 and 2013 his two-year salary would be $23,574,240, essentially clarifying what the floor is as the sides negotiate upward toward a mutually agreeable number.
“We are very happy that Drew Brees has clarification on this matter,” the union said, “and we hope that it facilitates a successful negotiation for Drew and the Saints.”
The NFL declined comment on Burbank’s finding or whether it intends to appeal. The Saints also did not return a message seeking comment.
If Burbank’s ruling stands, Brees would have little reason to accept a long-term contract from the Saints that did not guarantee him at least $20 million during the first two years.
Also, because Brees’ salary cap figure would be about $23.5 million under a 2013 franchise tag, the Saints will have more urgency to structure a new long term deal now that would give the club more flexibility under the salary cap in coming seasons.
A person familiar with the negotiations has told The Associated Press that the Saints have offered Brees more than $19 million a year. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing, said Brees has sought a five-year deal with an annual average pay of under $21 million. Last week Brees said the two sides still had “a ways to go” to reach an agreement, but, he added “I’m confident, and always have been, that we’ll get a long-term deal accomplished.”
Brees, who skipped the Saints’ offseason practices while holding out for a long-term deal, said he would never sit out the season, meaning the two sides will either reach a long-term deal by July 16th or he will play for the 2012 tender.
Since signing with New Orleans six seasons ago, Brees has led the Saints to their most successful stretch in franchise history. He was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player as New Orleans won its only NFL title after the 2009 season. He has led the Saints to three other playoff appearances.
Last season Brees set single-season records for completions (468), passing yards (5,476), completion percentage (71.2) as the Saints set an NFL record for total offensive yards in a season (7,474) during their march to the NFC South title.
This offseason is the first time Brees has had the opportunity to negotiate a major, long-term deal with the leverage provided by a string of injury-free seasons highlighted by a slew of individual and team statistical records, in addition to the championship.