Brees believes Saints will overcome
In the 2011 NFL offseason, Drew Brees sued the NFL, was barred from talking with his coach and organized the New Orleans Saints' makeshift workouts during the lockout.
That was a placid offseason compared with 2012.
Since the Saints were knocked out of the NFL playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers in January, Brees has had heated — and thus far unsuccessful — contract talks with the Saints. He has witnessed one of his key blockers, Carl Nicks, leave as a free agent, perhaps a domino effect of the Saints using their franchise tag on him. He has watched his team transform from a feel-good story to a story of shame after revelations about the organization's bounty program.
Again, Brees is looking at the prospect of preparing for a season without the counsel of head coach Sean Payton. About the only certainty at this stage of Brees' offseason of discontent is that he won't be playing for Bill Parcells.
How muddled is this offseason? A mere six days before the Saints begin offseason workouts, Brees couldn't — or wouldn't — say if he will be there.
"What I can say in regards to my contract is that we're continuing to work on a long-term deal," Brees said Tuesday during a news conference to promote his celebrity golf tournament at La Costa Resort and Spa. "That's really all I can say about it."
Can he even say whether he'll be with his teammates Monday?
"We're continuing to work on a long-term deal," Brees said, breaking into a wry smile, "and we're very hopeful we can accomplish that sooner rather than later."
Brees has not signed the $14.4 million franchise tender offer. Most years, the contract disharmony would be enough to make an offseason difficult. This year, that's almost a sideshow.
"Bountygate" and all it has spawned instead is the overriding story of the Saints' offseason. Payton has been suspended for a year by the NFL for allowing former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to oversee a program that rewarded Saints players for hits that injured opponents. Even those who excused the Saints with a "boys will be boys" attitude cringed when an audio tape of Williams' exhortations was released last week.
Williams called on his players to "kill the head" of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore and target the ACL of receiver Michael Crabtree.
"That was hard for everybody to hear," Brees said. "We're all disappointed. This is a shock to us. We're just going to find a way to get through, deal with it, stick together and stay strong. . . .
"We have a job to do — to play football games, win football games. We not only represent this organization but the people of New Orleans. We're going to continue to do what we've always done."
Even having heard the audio tape, Brees does not share the NFL's view of just what went on in the Saints' locker room.
"When a guy has an opportunity to take a shot at the quarterback, he's going to take it," Brees said. "I'm not saying he's trying to end your career or give you a concussion, but between the knees and the neck, they're trying to take you out every time. I know that for a fact — every defensive player. That's just football. We play a violent game.
"I'm not condoning, by any means, any kind of bounty structure. And I will clarify that there's a difference between pay for performance and pay for injury. I'd say that what we've been accused of, pay for injury, is not the case."
Brees took about 10 minutes of questions and tried to deflect just about any that focused on his contract or the bounty scandal. He did say that with Parcells out of the running, he has no idea who will serve as head coach once Payton's suspension begins Monday.
"It seems like there's a new news report in regards to that every day," Brees said. "I know that I have not heard any new news."
Brees, the Saints' union player representative, said he has no information about whether players will be subject to league discipline. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 for taking out Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, according to the league.
The Saints could be dealing with a shuffled coaching staff — assistant head coach Joe Vitt will serve a six-game suspension to start the regular season — and the loss of key defensive players. But Brees pointed to the adjustments the team made in 2011 after Payton suffered a knee injury and had to spend several games in the coaches' box upstairs. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael took over play-calling and direct communication with Brees, and the Saints didn't miss a beat.
"It seems like our organization, whenever there's any kind of adversity, guys seem to step up, take on more responsibility and really thrive," he said. "We did that last year, and I think that will continue to be the case."
The Drew Brees Celebrity Championship will be contested at La Costa from May 19-20 and will benefit Brees' foundation and other charities. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo won the event last year.