Brees, Brady: good people, great players

Tom Brady and Drew Brees have clearly established themselves at the top of the food chain in the NFL and are examples of how circumstances, injuries and simple choices of one player over another can create franchise-defining moments.

Mo Lewis changes Patriots history

I remember when – a few days after negotiating a 10-year $100-million contract for Brett Favre in February 2001 -- the New England Patriots awarded Drew Bledsoe similar deal for $103 million.

Two games into the contract, Bledsoe was violently thumped by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis while running out of bounds, suffered internal bleeding and was forced from the game. He was “Wally-Pipped” by an unknown named Tom Brady and never regained his starting role for the Patriots (he was traded to the Bills that offseason).

One can only guess what would have happened with the Patriots, Bledsoe and Brady had Lewis not collided with Bledsoe on Sept. 23, 2001. The rest, as they say, is history.

Daunte Culpeper (and the Dolphins) change Saints history

Once the Chargers selected Philip Rivers as the fourth pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Brees -- despite a strong year playing under the franchise tag in 2005 -- was merely keeping the seat warm until Rivers was ready.

In an inopportune circumstance, Brees injured his shoulder in the last game prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2005 season. Although Brees was being offered more money in New Orleans, I remember that offseason that he and agent Tom Condon were hopeful the Miami Dolphins would step up with a suitable contract offer. After an exhausting six-hour physical in Miami, the Dolphins were scared off by the shoulder, ended negotiations with Brees and moved on to Daunte Culpepper, who also was coming off an injury (knee).

The Dolphins – Brees’ first choice as a free agent in 2006 – preferred Culpepper and his risky knee to Brees and his risky shoulder. Culpepper’s career with the Dolphins lasted four games before they finished the season with Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon, then going with Trent Green the following year, Chad Pennington last year and now Chad Henne.

Brees went to the Saints on a one-year deal worth $10M with a $12M option. The Saints’ decision to exercise that option was one of the easier decisions made in NFL contracts in the past decade.

One can only imagine the change of events for the two franchises had the Dolphins chosen Brees over Culpepper.

Supreme players, superior people

Brady and Brees have the traits that teams look for in their quarterbacks and leaders: off-the-chart intelligence, natural management skills, an insatiable desire to get better in all that they do and an ability to make those around them feel empowered to do more than they think they can.

Having been in the front office of an NFL team for many years, there is no greater gift to a team than when its best players are also its more disciplined and hardest workers. The Patriots and Saints are blessed in that regard.

Brady is one of a handful of “it” athletes who transcend sports into a bigger stage, yet teammates and coaches all remark on what a model teammate he is, with high work ethic and modest personality.

Brees is consumed with being the best in everything he does. He was a student at Wharton Business School, where I teach, in the NFL program offered there in 2008 and took copious notes, studied into the night and asked insightful and thought-provoking questions. His charitable work is sincere and purposeful. Full disclosure: Brees is a spokesman here at the National Football Post, but there may be no more impressive football player on or off the field.

Contracts afoot?

We’ve witnessed contract extensions with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler in recent months.

While these deals were getting done, Brady and Brees – accomplishing more for their teams than those players -- have watched silently. It’s not in their nature to publicly question when their extensions were coming, but they certainly had to take notice of these deals, especially with Brees agent Tom Condon negotiating Eli’s deal.

Brady signed a $60M deal in 2005 in a contract that expires after 2010, with a now-under market $10M APY (average per year). Brady is making $5.5M this season, making him one of the most underpaid athletes in all of sports (he makes a couple of million more than Dan Orlovsky this season). The Patriots appear to be waiting on developments in collective bargaining – or the lack thereof – before addressing the future of their most important asset.

As reported here in September, Brees, ever the helpful teammate, converted more than half his $9.8M salary this year into a signing bonus, giving the cap-needy Saints $3.4M in cap room. This restructure, however, did not affect the remaining three years of the deal, as Brees is under contract through 2011 (the same length of time remaining on Cutler’s deal when it was extended).

So tonight it’s game on for two of the best players – and people – on two of the best teams in the NFL. They both arrived at their positions in unintended ways. They both are natural leaders with high work-ethic model teammates. And they both face interesting financial futures in the coming year.

But that’s for another day. Tonight we can just sit back and watch greatness.

A couple other notes from the weekend:

• It’s heartening that the NFL continues to take the head trauma issue more seriously. As written here the past couple of weeks, the league’s new guidelines have been helpful but have caused more questions than answers. With more clarity to the guidelines and mandated removal of players showing signs of head trauma, this is another important step in the process. Whether it’s the Congressional hearings that compared the NFL to the tobacco industry or other recent events, this has become the issue around the game this season, and that’s a good thing.

• Matt Leinart and Vince Young played against each other Sunday. They were the futures of their teams – and still may be – but have been in holding patterns while their teams made further commitments to Kurt Warner and Kerry Collins last offseason. It will be an interesting offseason for not only those two young quarterbacks but also the two older ones.

• Raise your hand if you thought the Chicago Bears – who went “all-in” with the Cutler trade last offseason, would be out of any postseason discussion before the beginning of December. I didn’t.

• The Colts beat the Texans in a close game. And the sun rose this morning.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

For a look at six teams which could benefit the most if there is an uncapped 2010 offseason, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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