There is no doubt in my mind that Drew Brees' decision to go to New Orleans in 2006 saved the Saints and possibly the city. In late August 2005 Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city seemingly beyond repair and the city was in ruins. The people's spirits were as damaged as the roof on the Superdome and there seemed to be no positive force on the horizon. The emotional toll seemed to affect the Saints on the field as well, prompting a 3-13 record that season.
On March 14, 2006, luck seemed to turn around for New Orleans. Brees was signed to a 6-year, $60 million contract and promptly took the team to an NFC South title and a 10-6 record. Brees led the league that year with 4,418 yards passing. The Saints beat the Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship game where they lost to the Bears 39-14. Though the team did not make it to the Super Bowl, the tides seemed to have changed in Louisiana.
Six years, 28,394 yards, 201 passing touchdowns and a 2009 Super Bowl title later, Brees was a free agent. His free agency and ruling in Philadelphia limiting the Saints' ability to use the franchise tag for a second consecutive year (third in his career), proved to be a headache for owner Tom Benson, the Brees family, New Orleans and fans around the world.
In an offseason marred by the bounty scandal which has already seen coach Sean Payton barred for the NFL season, GM Mickey Loomis banned for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt banned for six along with multiple players, the Saints and the city needed some positive momentum. Naturally, the person who could lift the city on his shoulders once again was their quarterback.
New Orleans' proclaimed savior responded to the trials his team was undergoing by engaging in a lengthy contract dispute to the dismay of ownership and fans everywhere. It was not until July 13 that Brees agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract that contains the largest guaranteed amount of money ever in the NFL: $60 million. With the most guaranteed money also comes the biggest annual salary ever in league history at $20 million.
To his credit, Brees has done amazing things on and off the football field in his Saints' tenure. He has set many records—including the single-season passing record (previously held by Dan Marino)—too many to mention in this article. He lifted a struggling franchise and made them into a perennial Super Bowl contender. He lifted the spirits and the morale of a city that had been decimated by a natural disaster. He brought home the franchise's only Super Bowl title since its inception in 1967.
I am in no way saying Drew Brees wasn't due for a significant raise. I don't feel there is a quarterback in the league that has played better than him over the course of the past five years. However, with that being said, Brees' actions over the course during these negotiations was a direct contradiction to what he symbolizes in New Orleans.
He is praised as a hero down in the Big Easy. Throughout "bounty-gate," his name never surfaced as being linked to the actions that then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was taking to allow his defense to wreak havoc on the field. As the quarterback of the team, the captain of the Saints and easily the most respected person on that roster, he may have been the only player with enough respect among teammates to have demanded an end to that—and yet it continued.
Paying Brees the richest contract annually and with the most guaranteed money is saying that he's the greatest player to have ever played the game. Brees is fantastic, but he is not the greatest player in NFL history. At a time when the team is under intense scrutiny and has a tarnished reputation, Brees used his public amnesty as leverage to force the Saints to up their contract offer. That does not seem like behavior for a city's hero, even if the hero has an agent running the negotiations.