New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he is "still very optimistic" that he can work out a new long-term contract with the team in the coming weeks. He said "this is definitely when things heat up," with the NFL's franchise-tag deadline looming on March 5 and the start of free agency set for March 13.
Brees said he's not surprised by the pace of negotiations so far. He said he understands that the Saints have a lot on their plate right now. And more importantly, he understands that these types of talks usually don't speed up until closer to the deadline.
"There's no doubt in my mind we'll get a deal done," said Brees, who said he expects his agent Tom Condon and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis to continue their talks during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this week.
When asked if he is worried that the two sides might still be "very far apart" in their philosophies on a new deal, however, Brees said no.
"I wouldn't say we're 'very far' apart. I think there's been progress made," Brees said. "But just like everything it's a process. It takes time. It's not something that happens overnight."
Brees was in Metairie on Thursday afternoon for a brief appearance at the Jimmy John's franchise he co-owns on Veterans Boulevard. Thursday was "Customer Appreciation Day" at the store, with sandwiches being offered for $1 apiece to customers from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. And Brees - naturally - was hoping to break the franchise record for most sandwiches delivered in a four-hour span.
Brees plans to open two more Jimmy John's franchises in the New Orleans area soon.
First he needs to take care of the not-so-small order of business of re-signing with the Saints now that his previous six-year contract has expired.
Both Brees and the Saints have repeatedly stressed that there is no doubt a new contract will get done at some point. All that remains to be seen is how much the deal will cost - and whether or not it can get done without the Saints placing the franchise tag on their superstar quarterback.
By placing the franchise tag on Brees, the Saints need to offer a one-year guaranteed contract in the expected range of $14.5 million. That would give the Saints the right to match any other offers Brees might sign with another team and force another team to pay two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Both sides would like to avoid the franchise tag, however. Brees wants more long-term security, especially since the franchise tag turned out badly for him with the San Diego Chargers, who let him leave as a free agent after he got injured during his one-year deal in 2005.
The Saints, meanwhile, could use the franchise tag on another priority free agent, such as guard Carl Nicks or receiver Marques Colston, if they don't have to use it on Brees.
Getting a deal done quickly isn't that simple, however. Although a new deal is expected to average around $18 million per year like recent extensions signed by fellow star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, those deals were structured very differently. Manning's five-year, $90 million deal averaged $23 million in the first three years, while Brady's four-year, $72 million extension actually equated to a five-year, $78.5 million deal since he had one year remaining on his previous contract.
A strong case could also be made that Brees, 33, could merit an even bigger deal than both of them after he just wrapped up one of the greatest statistical seasons in NFL history.
When asked if it's important for him to become the highest-paid quarterback Brees said, "I'm really not thinking about that at this point. I'm really just thinking about my career in New Orleans, with this team, this city, this organization. Also as I look to the future of our team, it's important for everything to come together the way we want it to."