DENVER -- After what seems like years of empty negotiations, the multi-million dollar question is this: Who will blink first?
Team Brees or Team Saints?
Which side will make the first move to break the impasse and jumpstart a long-term deal between quarterback Drew Brees/super agent Tom Condon and New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis?
I firmly believe they are not that far apart, that if a neutral third party were to intervene they could probably consummate an agreement over lunch at Jimmy John's.
This much is known: The point of no return is here. Today is July 6. The two parties have until the close of business July 16th to strike a blockbuster deal that would bring vast riches to Brees, strengthen the foundation in the House of Benson rocked by the bounty scandal and restore a semblance of order in Who Dat Nation.
Not to sound overly dramatic but these next 10 days could define the franchise's direction for years to come. And, the urgency intensifies with each passing day.
At the moment, Brees holds a guaranteed "exclusive'' franchise tender of $16.371 million for this coming season. Nothing more, nothing less.
He wants plenty more, especially more guaranteed money/signing bonus that would put him on equal footing with Peyton Manning and other elite NFL quarterbacks.
Which is where Brees belongs. Both sides seem to concur, it's just a matter of how to get there. The key for both sides is to structure a deal that is equitable in the short- and long-term and still be able to satisfy the player's ego and enable the organization to toe the necessary bottom line.
It is a difficult high-wire balancing act for employer and employee.
Keep in mind, if/when Brees signs a long term deal in New Orleans his cap number for this coming season could be less than it is now ($16.371M) after the team pro-rates the signing bonus out over the years of the contract. His actual base salary in 2012 will be considerably less than it was last season.
That is not the rub in the Saints' eyes. It's the millions guaranteed to Brees down the road, in the next few years, when team officials will be faced with the daunting task of trying to keep their core of impact players intact.
I appreciate Loomis' position. He understands Brees' enormous value to the organization, community and fan base and wants to pay the player accordingly. But Loomis must balance that dynamic within the financial framework established under Benson Sports, Inc.
It would be easy to give Team Brees a blank check based on the player's past production, on and off the field in New Orleans. There is no greater ambassador for a city and a sports franchise in our country than No. 9. But that would be the wrong thing to do.
Don't confuse for one moment the $ on Brees' chest with an S. Superman he is not. But he has proven to be "money'' for the Saints since bringing his surgically-repaired right arm to the Big Easy six seasons ago.
Keep in mind, paying an elite player his due while still trying to maintain fiscal responsibility is the price of doing business for successful NFL organizations. See the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, among others.
It only seems unique to New Orleans because Saints officials have seldom been faced with this dilemma. It is a good problem to have.
This is what I believe:
-- The two sides will strike a deal before the league clock strikes 12, meaning No. 9 will be in training camp on time. Again, the most important aspect of the contract is guaranteed money. If he gets it without annoying and needless strings attached, he likely will retire as a Saint.
I also believe this:
-- If a multi-year, equitable deal for both sides can't be reached by the deadline -- and I emphasize the word "equitable'' -- and Brees is faced with playing the 2012 season under the franchise tender, it would not bode well for long term harmony.
I have no doubt that Brees will be under center in New Orleans this season, with or without a long-term contract. I would be shocked if he misses any of the regular season. Beyond 2012 remains to be seen.
We are at 10 days and counting.
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