The city of New Orleans is well known for knowing how to throw a party—even when there’s not really a reason to throw said party.
Tonight, there’s a reason to throw a party. Heck, there may even be a parade down Bourbon Street all the way over to the Superdome.
The New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees reached a contract agreement on Friday that made Brees the highest-paid signal-caller in NFL contract history. The execution of the contract ended a period of unrest where Brees skipped offseason workouts while the two sides squabbled over terms.
Brees will be paid $100 million over the next five seasons. A total of $60 million of the deal is guaranteed, $40 million in just the 2012 season.
Saints fans can now breathe again. The rest of the league, not so much.
Brees, 33, set a single-season passing record last year of 5,476 yards, obliterating the 27-year-old record held by Dan Marino. He also set personal bests with 468 completions, a 71.2 percent completion rate and 46 touchdown passes.
The completion of the deal not only brings back one of the most prolific passers in the NFL to his team; having Brees under contract before training camp brings a sense of stability to a franchise that has been in nuclear meltdown mode for a majority of the offseason.
Not only have the Saints franchise and fanbase been rocked with Bountygate, the alleged pay-for-injury scandal that led to suspensions, fines and the loss of a draft pick, but general manager Mickey Loomis has also been targeted with eavesdropping allegations at the Superdome. The ongoing “When will the Brees contract be done” saga was a heavy burden that can now be put in the past.
New Orleans will be without head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, suspended for his role in Bountygate. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will miss six games and Loomis eight, also punishments handed down regarding Bountygate.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith will miss time too—Vilma the entire season, Smith just four games.
The biggest key in getting through the 2012 season in the midst of these Bountygate punishments is having Brees under center.
The team is definitely going to miss Payton and his unique and aggressive play-calling in 2012. If there’s one person—player or coach—who knows Payton’s offense just as well as the coach himself, it’s Brees. Seeing as how Brees is on the field watching the plays unfold around him in real time, an argument can be made that Brees might have a better grasp of the offense than Payton.
That’s why it was so very important to not only have Brees for every regular-season game on the schedule, but also for training camp.
It’s easy to see why the Saints need Brees on the field. There isn’t a quarterback on the roster that can come anywhere close to putting up outstanding numbers like Brees, a one-of-a-kind passer that’s in sync with the Saints way of moving the ball.
But with a new left guard in Ben Grubbs and a battle for the fourth wide receiver spot—a battle that could be won by rookie Nick Toon—the Saints will need Brees’ expertise during training camp too. Someone is going to have to lead this offense in Payton’s absence. Someone is going to have to find a rhythm with a new lineman and a new receiver.
The only person for that job is Brees.
After Brees gets this offense to gel during training camp, he’s going to be asked to work magic on more than just the offense during the regular season.
Vitt will act as interim head coach while Payton is suspended for the season. But Vitt himself is suspended for the first six games of the season. Pete Carmichael will run the show during that early part of the season, but someone is going to have to act like glue to hold this team together during that coaching carousel.
Brees is respected in the locker room, in the front office and especially among Who Dat Nation. Look no further than public opinion during the contract talks.
How many players could receive a contract offer that exceeded any contract in NFL history and not sign it, yet still not be ridiculed and shamed among the fanbase?
The list starts with Brees and doesn’t go much further.
Brees is loved in New Orleans. The man brought the city a Super Bowl championship. He helped New Orleans make steps forward after Hurricane Katrina. He’s a hero, a business owner—heck, he’s the patron saint of, well, the Saints.
Will it be tougher on the Saints to try and run Sean Payton's offense without him or work around the interim coaching changes?
It’s going to take that kind of strong individual to put this team on his back and guide it through the land mines of the 2012 season. And there will be land mines.
The coaching carousel itself will be difficult. But remember, the Saints have a new defensive coordinator and many new faces on the defensive side of the ball, particularly among the linebacker corps. Short of strapping on a different helmet and pads and playing two-way football, Brees is going to have to become involved on both sides of the ball.
Brees the motivator. Brees the player-coach. Brees the leader.
None of this could have been done by any player other than Brees, and it likely couldn’t have been down with as much enthusiasm of force if Brees wasn’t working under a long-term deal.
Brees couldn’t ask for the kind of power that he’s going to need to wield if there were contract talks looming in the horizon. Can you imagine how many times Brees or Loomis or any player in that locker room would have been asked about a Brees contract in 2012 if Brees would have had to play under the franchise tag?
That would have been a bad idea. Luckily for all involved, it won’t have to happen. Brees is signed for the next five years under a contract that will likely allow him to retire as a member of the Saints.
Allow some time to rejoice in that fact that the Brees deal is done, but don’t forget about the obstacles that befall Brees and the Saints this upcoming season. The 2012 season could, quite possibly, be the toughest Brees has faced in New Orleans.
The one thing Brees won’t have to worry about is money—or a contract.