The New Orleans Saints have several issues on their hand over the 2015 offseason: There is the glaring need to retool a defense that ranked at the bottom of the National Football League in pretty much every statistical category. To do so, the Saints will likely have to rely on the draft and maybe a few acquisitions in free agency. Another big problem is the fact the New Orleans currently sits with an awe and horror inspiring $162,144,891 total salary cap number. In case you are not too familiar with the concept of the NFL salary cap, it is an league-imposed limit of the total on-field payroll of all 32 NFL teams on any given season.
According to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, the NFL salary cap next season might reach or exceed the $142,000,000 mark. This would mean that before they have actually completed any transaction this offseason, the Saints are already at worst, around $20,000,000 over the cap. Even with an increase in the salary cap, there is a chance that New Orleans will still be in "the red" before starting any player transactions this offseason.
Sitting right at the top of this salary cap albatross for the Saints is one Andrew Christopher "Drew" Brees. According to sports business website spotrac.com, New Orleans' future Hall of Fame quarterback is due to make $18,750,000 as base salary in 2015. That in itself is a lot of money, but where it hurts the most is in the salary cap hits that come with Brees' final two years of the five-year deal he signed in 2012: $26,400,000 in 2015, $27,400,000 in 2016.
With the regular season that Drew Brees just had with the Saints, a disappointing 7-9 year that saw him throw 17 crippling interceptions and fail to lead his team to the playoffs, it isn't surprising that several Saints fans are grinding their teeth. Most are wishing aloud that Brees would take a pay cut, or at the very least restructure his gigantic contract to help the Saints with their offseason dealings.
In the salary cap hole it is in, New Orleans probably does not have any choice other than to go to the face of its franchise and ask him to restructure his deal. Let's not be naïve: Brees, like every other quarterback of his caliber, isn't taking a pay cut anytime soon; however, just like Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and other highly-paid, prominent signal-callers have done over the years, Brees has stated that he would be willing to work with the Saints and restructure his contract and thus extend his deal past 2016.
This is however where we have to ask ourselves two critical questions: Should the Saints extend Drew Brees' contract? When should New Orleans draft its "quarterback of the future?"
Let's tackle these issues one at a time:
Question: Should Saints Extend Drew Brees' Contract?
Simply said, the Saints do not have a choice. The way New Orleans has conducted its business under the direction of Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis has been to backload contracts, give players huge signing bonuses and deal with big cap hits towards said players' later contract years. It has been a "let's win now and worry about the future later" type of mentality. That is all fine and dandy when you're actually "winning now." However, when you aren't, you are left with huge cap hits from older players on the downside of their career and the inability to improve your mediocre team. With what they have invested in Drew Brees and his immense cap hit the next two years, New Orleans has to restructure its quarterback's deal if it wants any shot at improving its roster at all this offseason.
Releasing Brees would not only be a colossal on-field blunder that the Saints aren't about to make, his "dead money" (the money he'd be owed even if he wasn't playing for the team for the rest of his contract) would be a brutal $14,800,000. Does anyone really want New Orleans to be paying Brees any kind of money while he is guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a sweep of the Saints and the NFC Championship game? I didn't think so.
A restructuring of Brees' contract would simply taking money that he is owed the next two years and spreading it over a longer period (four years for instance), starting in 2015. The result would be more cap space for at least the next two years and Drew Brees in a Black and Gold Saints' uniform until 2018. It would also mean Brees playing quarterback for the Saints until he is 39 years old, with all that it entails in terms of declining performance on the field.
When Should Saints Draft "Quarterback of the Future?"
Answer: 2016 NFL Draft
Every professional athlete thinks he/she can be competitive forever. What when you're that gifted and on top of the world, the simple mention of retirement or of the end of the adulation you receive everyday makes you cringe. Many of our sports heroes hang on to the cleats well past their prime and become sad caricature of their younger selves. Brees claimed during the 2014 offseason that he was serious about playing until he is 45. Of course not one of the reporters around him dared tell him that it would probably be for the Toronto Argonauts.
But as we're witnessing the slow and inevitable decline of a true New Orleans sports icon, the New Orleans Saints' show must and will go on and the franchise has to be prepared for it. If the Saints end up extending Brees' contract this offseason through restructuring as I am advocating (in question 1 of this piece), then they have to make sure that by 2017 or 2018 they have a young quarterback in place, ready to step in and be Brees' replacement. Ideally, you would want your young quarterback learning behind Brees for a maximum of two years, then taking over for "Number 9" when the wheels start to completely fall off.
With the hypothetical idea that Brees' contract could be extended until 2018, it means that the Saints would have to draft a young quarterback that they deem a worthy "heir apparent" in the 2016 NFL draft. It also means that should New Orleans find a capable candidate for that position, Brees could even be released by the Saints in a cap saving move prior to the final year of his extended deal.
Finally, what this says to me is that with some improvements over the abomination that was the 2014 season, the New Orleans Saints have a legitimate shot at contending for a Super Bowl with Brees at the helm for the next two years, maybe three. Alas, the clock is ticking and although we all want to win now and the Saints should still try to go for broke in 2015 and 2016, they can't ignore this simple fact anymore: Brees is getting older and Father Time still has never lost a four quarters game.