Of the elite quarterbacks having neared or reached the end of their contracts over the past year, all but one have re-upped with their team. The last remaining shoe to drop is that of Drew Brees, the signature leader of the New Orleans Saints and an inspirational leader to the community. The negotiations have been ongoing for weeks and appear to be reaching a crescendo.
The completion of contracts for A-list quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Michael Vick – align the stars for Brees (playing in the final year of a six-year, $60 million deal) to collect a huge payday. Here is some insight into what I anticipate is taking place in the discussions between Brees' agent Tom Condon and the Saints general manager Mickey Loomis.
The Marketplace: Condon is using the Brady, Manning, and Vick contracts as jumping off points to – as all good agents do – selectively cull statistics to make the case that Brees is more valuable than all of them.
Here are some relevant numbers in terms of average per year (APY) and guaranteed money:
• Manning: $23 million APY (first three years); $54.4 million guaranteed assuming option exercise in 2012
• Brady: $18 million APY; $48.5 million guaranteed
• Vick: $16 million APY; $35.5 million guaranteed
The Manning contract will be used by both sides.
Condon contends that Brees should be compensated similar to Manning's $23 million three-year APY, as that contract was (1) negotiated by Condon and (2) best represents the current compensation for a premier quarterback. Condon will point out that Manning had two neck surgeries prior to this contract – and a third since – and is three years older than Brees with an uncertain future ahead.
Condon distinguishes the $18 million APY in the Brady deal by pointing out that it is over a year old and therefore not as accurate a data point as Manning. As to Vick, Condon distinguishes it as based on Vick's one-year sample rather than Brees' sustained performance.
The Stats: Condon argues that Brees is statistically superior to all three quarterbacks, arguing that since 2006, Brees has averaged more passing yards per season (4584) than both Manning (4327) and Brady (4158 – excluding the 2008 season lost to injury). Over that same period, Brees has thrown for the same number of touchdowns as Manning – 155, or an average of 31 per year.
Consistency: Condon is stressing Brees’consistency and durability, missing only one game due to injury in five seasons. The Saints have averaged nearly 10 wins per season during that span.
Intangibles: Condon will stress that there may be no player in the NFL more aligned not only with his team and community. Brees is a Super Bowl MVP hero who has provided hope to a city in desperate need of inspiration after the tragic Hurricane Katrina experience. Simply, he is the heart and soul of the Saints organization and the region.
Distinguishing the Market: Loomis distinguishes Manning’s contract due to the injury, as it may well turn out to be a one-year, $26.4 million deal with what is now an uncertain option clause. Ironically, the option clause format is the type of deal that Brees signed with the Saints in 2006, with that option exercised by the Saints in 2007 in the now-expiring contract.
Loomis distinguishes Brees from Brady’s resume of three Super Bowl victories, two Super Bowl MVP awards and two NFL MVP honors. Loomis also mentions Vick's uniqueness and rare abilities.
Picks: Loomis points to the number of interceptions Brees has thrown during his tenure in New Orleans – 79, 11 more than Manning has thrown during the same period with 22 alone last season.
Franchise tag leverage: As a named plaintiff in Brady v. NFL, Brees could have pushed for immunity from franchise tag designation as part of the settlement but opted for the greater good. Thus, the Saints have the potential use of the 2012 tag as some leverage.
Having been in this position negotiating Brett Favre’s contract ten years ago when he was the clear face of the Packers franchise, these arguments can be sensitive. Loomis must proceed tactfully, using the strong relationship with Condon to present the above arguments not as criticism — they are obviously trying to sign Brees — but as data points in a negotiation. It’s business, not personal (although it’s always personal).
The fact these negotiations have taken the time that they have may indicate there is some tension in the talks, perhaps related to some of these arguments.
My sense is that the delays in reaching an agreement are caused by the Saints' attempt to keep Brees under the $18 million APY that Brady received. In the end, though, I expect the Brees contract to be north of that $18 million APY with $45-50 million guaranteed.
Negotiations are not always a Brees (sorry)…
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