NFL

Saints must ink Brees long term

Jay Glazer discusses the NFL's punishment for the Saints.
Jay Glazer discusses the NFL's punishment for the Saints.
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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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In the spring of 2005, free agent quarterback Drew Brees took official visits to two NFL cities.

When he arrived in New Orleans, the Saints rolled out the red carpet. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse cooked him and his wife Brittany a meal, head coach Sean Payton drove them around town in his car, and the guys in the front office talked about building an offense around players and schemes that suited him best.

A few days after getting the royal treatment from the Saints, Brees flew to Miami. Instead of being courted and told how wonderful he was by the Dolphins’ brass, Brees was forced to undergo eight hours’ worth of physical examinations. The Dolphins weren’t sold on Brees, and just a few months removed from major shoulder surgery, they wanted to poke and prod him before handing over the keys to the franchise.

Brees signed with the Saints.

They showed him the love.

He has since led New Orleans to the playoffs in four of his six years under center. He’s brought a Lombardi Trophy to Bourbon Street. He’s turned the Saints from an NFL laughingstock into one of the sexier franchises in football.

Drew Brees is the New Orleans Saints.

And now, in the wake of Roger Goodell’s iron-fisted ruling on Bountygate Wednesday afternoon, the Saints need to show Brees the love, again.

Pronto.

When the Saints placed the franchise tag on Brees two weeks ago, it was viewed with raised eyebrows and skeptical glances around the league. Though some veterans would be more than happy to be paid a Top-5 quarterback’s salary, the move stunk of disrespect and uncertainty. Were the Saints being cheap? Was Brees asking for too much? There never seemed to be any doubt that Drew Brees would finish his career in black and gold under the Superdome roof. But now, an alternative ending to New Orleans’ favorite son’s career became a realistic possibility.

Though the money was mighty, the one-year contract was curious. Were the Saints having questions about the value of Brees? After a season in which he broke the NFL’s single-season yardage record and took the Saints to their third playoff trip in four years, were there doubts as to whether he was worth a lucrative, long-term deal?

If the franchise tag was just a Band-aid on what owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis viewed as a long, painful negotiation process they envisioned stretching out over the course of the offseason, they need to rip that Band-Aid off immediately and get a giant cloth to heal the wound.

In a matter of weeks, the Saints have gone from a feel-good story with a delightfully high-scoring offense to the league’s darkest villains. They’re more than bullies who sometimes run up the score; they’re unethical headhunters. Bountygate, and the resulting penalties levied on Wednesday, undid years of goodwill surrounding the franchise.

There’s no more “feel-good” aura surrounding the New Orleans Saints. They’re bad guys; the team that went out of their way to ruin the careers of opposing quarterbacks.

Brees remains the NFL’s golden child, though. The team’s captain and offensive leader, Brees hasn’t been dragged into any of the toxic publicity surrounding the team, now. Gregg Williams, Joe Vitt, Payton, Loomis, Jon Vilma, and the countless other blood-thirsty players on the defensive side of the ball will all feel the football viewing public’s wrath over the next few years.

But Brees won’t. Whether he knew of the bounties being placed on the heads of his fellow signal callers or not, his name hasn’t once been brought up in the proceedings and resulting deluge of media coverage.

The New Orleans Saints are now the league’s bad guys, but Brees is still the same undersized quarterback with the oversized birthmark and the baby with the giant headphones covered in confetti. He is still the guy in the Dove ads and the glowing “60 Minutes” profiles. Women still say, “Aww” when they see Baby Baylen and Daddy Drew (not to be confused with Big Daddy Drew) in a Super Bowl ad.

From the public perception and likeability standpoint alone, Drew Brees is now an invaluable asset to the New Orleans Saints.

When you add in the fact that Sean Payton, his head coach and the offensive mastermind responsible for running the entire Saints offense, will now be iced from the team and out of for entirety of the 2012 season — Brees becomes downright irreplaceable.

Only one quarterback in the entire league could operate in New Orleans this season without Payton. It’ll take a Herculean effort to overcome the obstacles they face, but Brees can do it. If he didn’t already earn it, he needs to be compensated the task that awaits him in 2012.

Fresh off four neck surgeries in 19 months and a year away from the game, Peyton Manning received a five-year, $96 million deal from the Denver Broncos on Monday. Though he’d been courted by Broncos' brass for weeks, Manning, his agent Tom Condon (also Brees’ agent) and the Broncos front office worked out the finer details of his deal in a 24-hour span.

QBs who ended up somewhere else

ONE MORE RUN

Where does Manning rank on the list of franchise quarterbacks who finished their careers on another team?

So, why is Brees’ new deal in a holding pattern? The Saints need to sign him long-term, and they need to do so immediately. Following Wednesday’s punishments, this becomes the franchise’s first, second, third, and 50th priority.

Drew Brees needs be shown even more love and affection than he got in 2005.

A new deal should be signed ASAP, but if it isn’t, I’d certainly hope an extension is worked out by April 20. On that date, Brees’ salary cap number will increase by close to $2 million per year. If nothing’s worked out by July 16, the last day a team can sign a franchised player to a long-term extension before the end of the season, you can add a bitter and hurt quarterback to a team in desparate need of a leader.

Bountygate doesn’t necessarily have to cripple the 2012 Saints. With a happy and inspired Drew Brees, anything’s possible. At his best, Brees could rally a team of believers to overcome any obstacle placed in their way. Go look at the 2006 Saints roster. A year after Hurriane Katrina ravaged the city and its fan base, he took a team of undrafted free agents and scrap heap veterans to the NFC Championship Game.

Brees can save this franchise. He’s done it before and he can do it again.

But if a deal’s not worked out soon with New Orleans’ favorite son, you can kiss that all goodbye.

We forget that it took the Saints two decades to win a playoff game. We forget that paper bags over faces were once more common in the SuperDome than Mardi Gras beads.

The Saints franchise can hit an all-time low in 2012. Only one man can stop that from happening.

He just needs to be shown the love.

Tagged: Broncos, Saints, Drew Brees

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