New Orleans Saints fans may want to send a thank-you card to the New England Patriots based on a move a couple of weeks ago involving franchise quarterback Tom Brady. Brady and the Patriots agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract extension that keeps Brady at quarterback through the 2017 NFL season (when he will be 40) and saves New England $15 million in salary cap space by giving Brady $57 million guaranteed dollars instead of the $25 million he had before, but over a longer period of time.
Why should Saints fans care? Because the massive deal quarterback Drew Brees signed last season isn't cap-friendly, and the Black and Gold started this offseason $16 million to $20 million over the salary cap. It doesn't take a math genius to understand the basic principle: in order to spend money, you need money. Acquiring talent through free agency and keeping players already on the roster takes money.
Brees' cap number last season was $10.4 million; this season it will be $17.4 million, and in two years it will be $26.4 million. The highest Brady's cap number gets over the next five seasons is $15 million — in 2017. It's $13.8 million this season, $14.8 next season, $13 million in 2015 and $14 million in 2016. Brady's salaries for 2013 and 2014 are $1 million and $2 million, where in his old deal he was set to make $9.7 million in base salary for both of those seasons.
An interesting part of the contract is what I call the "Brady health provision." It specifies that his base salaries — $7 million in 2015, $8 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017 — are guaranteed even if the team releases Brady due to an injury (it doesn't apply to diminished skills).
About this time last year, Saints management tagged Brees as a franchise player and began a long, drawn-out contract battle between the club and the quarterback. Fans and national media were quick to voice opinions that the team should pay Brees what he wanted and deserved. In their eyes, there was no question that without Brees, the Saints would not have become an NFL powerhouse, but there are consequences for using a large percentage of your cap to pay one player.
General manager Mickey Loomis has been busy as the team has restructured the deals of linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, receiver Marques Colston and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, in addition to releasing tight end Daivid Thomas. The moves still left the Saints $3 million over the cap. Defensive end Will Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and likely safety Roman Harper will be the next set of players to rework their deals to remain with the team.
Loomis also will have to find money to keep starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who will want at least $5 million per year, and restricted free agents like center Brian De Le Puente, defensive end Junior Galette and running back Chris Ivory. If those three are tendered, it would cost just over $2 million apiece. Add the RFA deals to Bushrod's likely asking price, mixed in with being $3 million over the cap, and the Saints need to come up with at least $15 million.
Brees may not have to restructure his deal this season, but at some point it'll have to happen, especially since many other Saints players have had to restructure their deals for the sake of the team. Brady's renegotiation, where the player and team both benefit from a new or restructured contract, could provide a blueprint for a more cap-friendly deal.
The Saints will make it work this season. They'll get under the cap and bring in who they can with what money they can find. The problem is that the budget will only get tighter unless the Saints can find a way to "Brady" its Brees deal.
— Listen to Gus Kattengell's The Sports Hangover every weekday from 3 p.m-6 p.m. on 106.1 FM "The Ticket."