Considering the frequency with which massive, GDP-of-a-small-country contracts are handed out in the NFL these days, it takes something truly astonishing to catch people off guard.
But Drew Brees pulled it off. The Saints' franchise quarterback ended his offseason stalemate on Friday by agreeing to a five-year, $100 million deal that will pay him $40 million in 2012 and $60 million guaranteed.
Suffice it to say, drinks are probably on Brees this weekend.
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Brees' $20 million-per-year contract average makes him the highest-paid player in the league, vaulting him just past Calvin Johnson ($18.5 million) and Peyton Manning ($19.2 million). It was the latter total that Brees reportedly set his sights on throughout the negotiation process. Manning, of course, sat out with a neck injury while Brees broke Dan Marino's single-season passing record last season.
That alone may have been enough to provide Brees with the deal he wanted, but the Saints' disastrous offseason left the franchise without much recourse. The two sides had until Monday at 4 p.m. ET to agree on a long-term deal, one that would prevent Brees from playing -- or holding out through -- the 2012 season on the franchise tag.
While Brees likely would have shown up eventually, the Saints were wise to lock up their team leader now. With the much-publicized bounty scandal still hanging over the franchise and coach Sean Payton barred from the sidelines for a year, New Orleans could not afford to take even the slightest risk that Brees would hold out.
With Payton unavailable to call plays, Brees may be given even more control of the Saints' attack by offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. The Carmichael-Brees dynamic worked well last season after Payton suffered a broken leg -- the first game with Carmichael calling the shots (while Payton was in the press box) ended in a 62-7 Saints romp over the Colts.
Despite losing WR Robert Meachem and LG Carl Nicks in free agency, the Saints will have a great deal of continuity on the offensive side of the ball. Brees' new deal ensures that will be the case, to some extent, for at least the next three seasons. It also could provide New Orleans with a little bit of flexibility in 2015 and '16, pending the final language of the contract.
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Brees has been one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks for several seasons and led the Saints to victory in Super Bowl XLIV. His impact on New Orleans stretches beyond that, however, as he has developed into the unquestioned face of the franchise. A holdout that stretched into the preseason and, in the worst-case scenario, into the regular season would have severely hindered the Saints' chances to compete in 2012. It also would've resulted in another PR nightmare.
The presence of Brees alone is enough to keep New Orleans in the NFC South title conversation, despite the lingering turmoil surrounding the rest of the organization. Brees still has a loaded group of receivers and tight ends and a talented stable of running backs at his disposal. Barring injury, the Saints' offense should be among the league's best again this season. No one would have been able to make that case had Chase Daniel or Luke McCown been pressed into starting duty with Brees sitting out.