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Drew Brees Contract Negotiations: Read the CBA!

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As is par for the course this offseason, whether we’re discussing the bounty situation (enough with the "gate" thing, people) or the Drew Brees contract negotiations, I believe the Saints fan community is taking too much at face value. A few snippets have come out of the Brees/Condon/NFLPA camp via the national media, and no matter if they’re presented as fact or conjecture, they’re not backed up by the actual documents. So, in the interest of self-education, let’s take a look at what the CBA actually says about the franchise tag. Stop trusting the national media, or even your friends in the Saints blogging community, even if they are sometimes right on the mark. You may learn nothing new from this post. However, instead of taking your information from Jason Cole or Pro Football Talk, why not take it straight from the source?

Here’s the CBA. Please, feel free to follow along after the jump.

If you haven’t read it, why not start with SaintsWin’s opinion piece about the potential gains Brees could actually make by holding out the entire season? A little truth is good for the Saints fan’s soul, even if it isn’t exactly what you want to hear. Read it, because this article will add fuel to his premise that Drew Brees is better-served by holding out than by signing the 2012 tender. Don't worry, I’ll be here when you get back.

Now, on to the CBA. Relevant information begins on page 44. Article 10 begins there, titled "Franchise and Transition Players." Section 2 discussed the required tender for those players, and that will be a good place to start. Paragraph (a) provides the tenders for the first and second year. Paragraph (b) is the third year. Line item (i) in paragraph (a) is the Nonexclusive Franchise Tender. This doesn’t apply to Drew Brees in 2012, because he has received the Exclusive Tender. However, it’s important to understand that Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) refers to the Nonexclusive Tender, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.

Moving on, (ii) is the Exclusive Tender (we’re at the bottom of page 44 here), and it reads:

Exclusive Franchise Tender. The Exclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Salaries in Player Contracts for that League Year as of the end of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period 45 that League Year, as set forth in Article 9, Section 2(e), for players at the position (within the categories set forth in Section 7(a) below) at which he participated in the most plays during the prior League Year, or (B) the amount of the Required Tender under Subsec-tion (a)(i) above, whichever is greater.

The "Required Tender under Subsection (a)(i) refers to the 120% rule, meaning that the player must be paid 20% higher than the previous year. This is where we get the 120% of the first franchise tag in the second year it is used. That’s important: it’s not 120% of the franchise tag amount. It’s 120% of the salary of the previous year.

I’ll spare you the long quote from the next section; you may follow along on page 45 if you like. Here’s the key quote, and this is what the Condon/Brees camp is apparently using (according to Jason Cole) to argue that next year would be Brees’s third franchise tag:

Any Club that designates a player as a Franchise Player for the third time shall, on the date the third such designation is made, be deemed to have tendered the player a one-year NFL Player Contract for the greater of:

I’m no lawyer, but I feel good about two things. One, that this was intended to mean consecutive tags placed by one team, at least from the league’s perspective. Two, that they did a really crappy job of putting that thought on paper, because it’s ambiguous as all hell.

The paragraph goes on to stipulate that the third year requires either: the basic franchise tender; or 120% of that tender; or 144% of the prior year’s salary. Again, there is a difference between a percentage of a franchise tender and a percentage of the salary. Here’s a question I haven’t seen asked (follow me for a moment): if the league intended the Third Tag Rule, as I have creatively nicknamed it, to refer only to consecutive tags, why would they need to differentiate? Wouldn’t 144% automatically be the highest of the three conditions in that case? Hmmm…

One more thing I’d like you to look at, and it’s the most fun in my opinion. By "fun," of course, I mean "absolutely terrifying." Scroll down to the bottom of page 51. This is a doozy, here, folks. Under Section 15, Signing Period for Franchise Players, part (c):

If any Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Tran-sition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable Tender must be made and any 120% Tender shall be measured from the Player’s Prior Year Salary. If such a player is redesignated as a Fran-chise Player for the League Year following the League Year in which he does not play, the player may be designated only under Section 2(a)(i) above, except that Draft Choice Compensation of only one first round draft selection and one third round draft selection shall be made with respect to such player in the event he signs with the New Club.

Section 2(a)(i), remember that? Scroll back up if you don’t – I told you to remember that one. It’s titled "Nonexclusive Franchise Tender".

What this means, basically, is that if Drew Brees doesn’t sign a long term offer, and refuses to play under the franchise tag, he becomes a Nonexclusive Free Agent. He can market himself anywhere, they can make an offer, and the Saints get a shot to match. No matter how ridiculous – some braindead GM could offer him 35 million dollars a year, and the Saints must either match or let him walk. The compensation is dictated in the last sentence of that quote: a first and a third. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like holding out for a year puts pretty much every bit of bargaining power in Brees’s hands. He maximizes earnings in 2013, and the compensation isn’t nearly what the Saints would ask in a blockbuster trade.

Some perspective? Sure, I can do that. The Saints would get less in return for Drew Brees than they gave away for Steve Walsh 20 years ago. Let’s not even get in to a Ricky Williams comparison.

Last point, I promise: it's interesting that the Condon & Brees camp can only have it one way or the other, however. Either Drew Brees is an unrestricted free agent next year, or he gets paid as a third tag. Playing this year yields that huge increase of 144%, coming to a total of about 23.5 million under the tag in 2013. Holding out makes him an unrestricted free agent. But if he signs the tag this year, pushing to a supposed "third tag" next year, he loses the ability to move altogether, according to this back on page 45 (in the franchise tender section):

If the Club designates the player as a Fran-chise Player for the third time, the designating Club shall be the only Club with which the player may negotiate or sign a Player Contract.

Yet another reason, it seems, for Drew Brees to be better served by holding out than by signing a franchise tender in 2012.

Again, this read may not have taught you anything new about the Brees contract situation. The lesson I hope you get out of it is this: read the primary document. Don’t take some national blowhard’s word for what’s going on, but don’t ignore him either. You have the ability, thanks to the age we live in, to listen to what they have to say, go find the source, and check it out for yourself.

Reading makes you smarter.