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The Saints’ championship window might be shorter than you think

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There are two important factors that threaten the length of the Saints’ championship window, and believe it or not, neither of them go by the name Drew Brees.

New Orleans Saints Parade Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

When the Saints lost against the Rams in the NFC Championship, distraught fans knew chances like that don’t come along often. But because the Saints have so much young talent mixed with quality leadership on both sides of the ball, they are still favored more than most franchises to repeat and hopefully exceed their recent success.

The Saints’ 2017 draft class has had a huge positive impact and the team is getting Pro Bowl level play from several players still playing on their more than manageable rookie pay scales. The two first round picks Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk are eligible to have their fifth year options picked up after this coming season.

The Saints would be wise to pick those up, but they would be even wiser to extend these two players past the 2021 season. What’s going to be increasingly difficult, however, is keeping all of the quality players the Saints drafted along with them.

Alvin Kamara, Marcus Williams, Alex Anzalone, and possibly Trey Hendrickson will have all earned the right to negotiate higher paydays come the end of the 2020 season. Most teams can only dream of striking gold with six players in the same draft, but it’s a double edged sword when those quality players need to get paid all at the same time.

This year, the combined salaries of Lattimore, Ramczyk, Williams, Kamara, Anzalone, and Hendrickson will account for 5.88% of the team’s total salary cap. In 2020, they will account for 6.85%. That’s a small investment for such productivity.

For comparison, in 2019, Drew Brees’s salary alone will account for 11.97% of the team’s total salary cap. That’s more than twice the amount paid to the class of 2017. In fact, the salaries of Brees, Jordan (7.41%), Terron Armstead (8.34%), and Larry Warford (5.59%) are each larger on their own than of the entire 2017 Saints draft class.

It’s hard to imagine the Saints being able to retain them all when their rookie contracts expire, which gives the team a maximum of two more years on this rookie scale gravy train. Yet an even greater possible threat to the Saints’ championship window looms at the end of 2020.

The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement will expire at the end of that year. Why should Saints fans or any NFL fans care about that? Well, there’s a good chance the entire player/owner power structure could change dramatically.

First of all, NFL fans should absolutely expect a shortened 2020 season or, quite possibly, no season at all. NFL athletes are more financially savvy and united than ever before; unlike those who bent to the owners and signed off on the 2011 CBA, this generation of players have been preparing for a lockout for years. Just ask cornerback Richard Sherman.

“Oh, 100 percent. If we want as the NFL, as a union, to get anything done, players have to be willing to strike. That’s the thing that guys need to 100 percent realize. You’re going to have to miss games, you’re going to have to lose some money if you’re willing to make the point, because that’s how MLB and NBA got it done. They missed games, they struck, they flexed every bit of power they had, and it was awesome. It worked out for them.”

Former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins has also become a powerful voice for players across the league and has repeatedly echoed Sherman’s call for a united front when it comes to renegotiating the new CBA.

“I’ve got a feeling it won’t be as simple as it was last time just because you have more players like myself who have been through the lockout before, saw how the NFLPA leadership handled that into where we are now, which I don’t think was a bad deal but there is a lot that I feel like we want to get back as players, or get as players.”

Less than ten years ago, young players may not have understood how the NFLPA union worked or benefited from increased lines of communication from players in leadership roles down to the newest rookie.

Times have changed and the players now understand that they may have given up too much power to the already too powerful 32 NFL owners and league commissioner Roger Goodell. According to Jenkins, however, it appears they are poised to take some of that power back.

”All of the other things can be negotiated, but there is no game without us. And as soon as players recognize that and leverage that, then I think we come from a much stronger place. But if we always look at dollars and cents then we lose that every time.”

Drew Brees may retire after this season. But if he doesn’t, that leaves only one more guaranteed full season for a final championship run with this young core intact. The owners know this is coming. The players know this is coming. The fans who don’t know will figure it out soon enough.

Between a young underpaid roster that’s set for a collective raise and the ticking time bomb of 2020’s expiring collective bargaining agreement, it’s safe to say this team’s championship window is two years away from slamming shut.