DENVER -- The 2012 NFL regular season hasn't started and already the New Orleans Saints are in the win column.
After months of arduous and sometimes contentious negotiations, prized quarterback Drew Brees has become the highest paid player in the National Football League, agreeing to a blockbuster 5-year, $100 million contract with $60 million guaranteed.
He is expected to be paid $40 million alone this season, according to ESPN.
“Congratulations are in order for our organization, our city, Drew and Brittany and certainly for Mickey Loomis and his staff for all of the hard work put in to make this possible," Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement released by the team. "Now we must turn our focus to getting ready for the start of training camp and to keeping with our goal of being the first team in NFL history to host and play in a Super Bowl.”
The contract ensures that Brees will end his career in New Orleans and places him at the top of the NFL mountain in terms of average payout ($20 million) and guaranteed money ($60 million), above an elite group that includes Peyton and Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Michael Vick.
Friday's development is the first piece of good news for an organization that has been steeped in controversy this offseason stemming from the bounty scandal and also wiretapping allegations against GM Mickey Loomis.
Though team officials and Brees' agent, Tom Condon, continued to hammer out final details Friday, the record agreement ends speculation that the quarterback would not report to training camp July 24th without a new contract.
Since early March, Brees has been held "hostage'' by an "exclusive'' franchise tag placed on him by team officials that guaranteed him $16.371 million this season. Now, both sides can rest easy, knowing Monday's league-imposed deadline of 3 p.m. to reach a long-term deal is moot.
It appears team officials sweetened the pot in the last 48 hours to close the deal, boosting the five-year agreement by $3.75 million to bring the average payout from $19.25 million to $20 million.
The contract will be very cap friendly to the team for the first two years leading up to the league's new TV agreement. Pro Football Talk calls the deal essentially a three-year contract worth $60 million with team options for both of the final two seasons (2015 and 2016). The cap figure for this season (PFT calls it at $10.4 million) will save New Orleans just over $6 million in cap space compared to the $16.37 million franchise tender.
All of that said, my initial reaction is no one should be surprised by Friday's news. Brees deserves this type of contract based on his many contributions on and off the field the past six seasons. And though I am surprised it took so long for both sides to strike a deal, I have no doubt that Saints owner Tom Benson and Loomis always had Brees' best interests in mind.
Benson and Loomis understand Brees' intrinsic value to their franchise. Truth be told, Brees probably deserves more money but both sides had to maintain some semblance of fiscal responsibility in order to plan for a still promising future.
Perhaps now, no matter who ends up coaching the team this season and regardless who misses playing time as a result of the unprecedented league sanctions, the team's football operations can focus its full attention on the prize.
No NFL team has ever played the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Last time I looked that possibility still exists for the New Orleans Saints who took a huge step Friday toward reaching their goal. Bear in mind, it merely is a first step. Many important steps remain.
But BigFoot has been captured.
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