The New Orleans Saints have had an NFL offseason unlike any other team in league history.
There has been damning audio revealing the worst that a locker-room speech can offer, damaging fines and suspensions to players, staff and front office personnel, and enough footage of a newly single, exiled head coach dancing in the Bahamas to keep TMZ busy for weeks.
But all of that — the Jonathan Vilma suspension, the public relations fiascos, the lengthy court appeals and breathless media coverage — would have taken a distant backseat in the form of the “bad news” had Drew Brees’ long-term deal not gotten done this summer.
Well, it did.
And the deal — which is the first morsel of positivity in what has been a hellish few months — is what was priority A, B, C, D and E for the Saints’ front office brass this offseason.
Brees’s new contract is worth a reported $100 million for the next five years, including $40 million in the first year, and a total of $60 million guaranteed for the first three. Brees, burned by the franchise tag when he suffered a near career-ending injury during his "franchise" year with the Chargers in 2005, becomes the highest paid player in the NFL.
He’ll now all but definitely retire with the one team that gave him a shot after that horrific shoulder injury. When the time comes, Brees will retire as the most beloved player in New Orleans history.
Any other player, on any other team — you could have said “Ah, hell, let him hold out all year if he wants,” and be right. The $16.7 million-a-year salary the Saints were due to pay Brees under the franchise tag in 2012 isn’t exactly chump change. He wouldn’t have been eating soup and crackers, surfing Craigslist for work. There may not have been all that much sympathy from the fans.
But no player is more valuable to any one team in the league right now than Brees is to the 2012 Saints. Considering the circumstances, considering the man — this deal had to get done, regardless of the price tag.
With Payton suspended without pay for the year, Brees becomes more than merely a quarterback for the Who Dat Nation. He’s now the team’s de facto head coach, too. He’s always been the voice in the locker room, the leader on the field. Now, he’s truly the face, the heart, and the brain of the New Orleans Saints.
And that’s more than fine. A disgruntled Brees would have made for an uncomfortable and tenuous season-long drama for Tom Benson and Co. An absent Brees could have meant a bigger drop-off than the one the Colts had without Peyton Manning. A happy and motivated Brees — now "all in" with this team and likely salivating to prove a country of critics picking against them in the NFC South — makes New Orleans legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Beyond football — and yes, he’s pretty darn good at the sport — Brees is the lifeblood of both the franchise and the city. For all the dirty deeds (done dirt cheap) the team’s been accused of, Brees remains a tough guy not to like. He’s invincible in the public eye.
A PR maestro and marketing machine, he is the face of Pampers ads, Dove products, and a line of gluten-free foods. He’s also the spokesperson for a city that was torn apart after Hurricane Katrina.
When others fled, Brees chose to sign with the Saints, live in New Orleans and embrace a culture in need of hope. In turn, he brought them the city’s only professional sports title.
When Brees is up on stage at the ESPYs, with a pregnant wife in the crowd, listing out the nicknames of his entire offensive line and training staff — no one’s thinking about Gregg Williams calling Michael Crabtree a “fake ass prima donna”, no one’s lamenting Anthony Hargrove allegedly shouting “Give me the Money!” after a punishing hit on Brett Favre. It all goes away.
You think about Brees — shorter than just about every other NFL quarterback — rising to exceed any and all expectations.
It’s Drew Brees. It’s the dude with the funky birthmark on his face and the adorable son in the diapers commercial.
Yes, he’s a great quarterback. But he’s also a great, very well-liked, man. And for a team that’s had nothing but trash written and said about them since March, a smiling Drew Brees matters.
That goodwill goes a long way.
So the Saints broke the bank on the guy. It likely cost them Carl Nicks. It probably cost them Robert Meachem, too. Down the road, it’s going to cost them others, as well.
But that’s OK. In the end, Brees was going to get paid because the Saints had no other real option. They were going to start the season with Chase Daniel at quarterback and Aaron Kromer as the head coach?
They were going to hear lame BountyGate jokes made about them on late night TV and on Twitter as they lost week after week after week?
Brees got $100 million. The way I see it, he could have asked for $120 million and gotten that. The Saints had no other choice. They not only needed Brees in the lineup, but they needed a happy Drew Brees in the lineup. They waited this long because they could.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Falcons this offseason, that this is their year. No team is being hyped more than Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers. Even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — with a bevy of free-agent signings (including the aforementioned Nicks), a new no-nonsense head coach, and several highly regarded rookies — are getting a lot of buzz.
But the Saints are still the team to beat in that division. The loss of Nicks and Vilma hurt, but this team is still damn good. The addition of Curtis Lofton at linebacker was a quietly received move that will serve as an upgrade at the position and re-signing Marques Colston was huge. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense seems to fit the personnel well and Pete Carmichael is one of the more highly regarded young offensive minds in the game.
And there’s Brees.
The 2012 Saints are going to be darn good. Like it — or, better yet, like them –or not.
When push came to shove, we knew this deal was going to get done.
And the way this offseason has gone for New Orleans, it’s no shocker this huge news came on Friday the 13th.