Tom Brady and Drew Brees are not just the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL, they are also headed into the unknown. The two future Hall of Famers, after all, are both scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins on March 18 and their future with the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, respectively, is very much up in the air at this point in time — anything can happen in case they reach the open market.
That being said, it is not unlikely both ultimately return to their old teams with new contracts in hand. How those deals will look like, however, remains to be seen considering that Brady turns 43 in August while Brees will be 41 when free agency starts. Both are still capable of playing at a high level, but given their age it would not be a surprise if the Patriots and Saints will try to play it safe when it comes to any long-term investments.
Given the circumstances, the two teams will therefore likely keep a close eye on each other — something former NFL agent Joel Curry also believes as he pointed out in a recent article for CBS Sports: “Brees’ most recent contracts with the Saints were seemingly used as a template in Brady’s renegotiation. [...] The renegotiated contract also contains a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating Brady as a franchise or transition player.”
Both the Patriots and the Saints recently reworked their quarterback’s contracts and tagged on voidable years in order to spread out signing bonuses. The results are a bit different — Brees has $21.3 million left on his deal compared to Brady’s $13.5 million — but the intention was the same: to create some short-term cap flexibility and use the years added to the contracts in order to minimize the impact of fully guaranteed signing bonuses.
So, what does this all mean for the new league year?
1.) The Patriots and Saints will want to get deals done comparatively quickly: Both the Patriots and the Saints will likely prefer getting deals done before those years left on the contracts void on March 18, 4:00pm. Being able to do that would mean that New England keeps Brady’s (for all intents and purposes dead) salary cap hits in 2020 and 2021 at a comparatively manageable $6.75 million each; New Orleans would have Brees’ at $15.9 million and $5.4 million, respectively. Both teams therefore have incentive to get deals done rather quickly.
2.) The Patriots and Saints could again try to copy each other: As noted above, New England essentially used the Saints’ re-worked contract with Brees — the team converted $16.2 million of his deal into a fully guaranteed bonus in March while tagging on another year to spread out the cap hit — as a blueprint for the Brady deal that was done last August. In case one of the teams is able to bring its quarterback back earlier than March 18, expect the other to take a close look at how it is structured in terms of guarantees and length.
After all, both Brady and Brees are in similar albeit not exactly the same situations: both are in their 40s and there is virtually no precedent of quarterbacks being able to play winning football at this age. Brady, two years Brees’ senior, is the best the Saints can work with as a comparison but the Patriots are entering uncharted territory — no player in league history has successfully performed at the position at age 43 and beyond.
From a purely contractual perspective, however, one of the two teams will take the first step and the other will likely keep a close eye on it. Corry does not predict that it will necessarily be the Saints, but he expects them to reach an “agreement [...] a day or two before the current league year ends so the Saints can avoid a $21.3 million cap charge from Brees’ dummy contract years voiding,” as was already noted above.
If this happens, and the Patriots have not yet reached a deal with Brady, they will analyze the deal’s structure carefully and maybe try to build something similar with their own superstar passer. The big question is how this deal would then look like, however, and if the future Hall of Famer would be willing to sign it — especially if the team wants to take more of a year-to-year approach versus Brady’s wish to get more long-term stability.
As with all negotiations, a middle ground satisfying to both parties will need to be found for success. The Saints could again provide a blueprint for the Patriots — or vice versa — just like they did in the past. It might be the use of more void years, or the rarely applied player option for future seasons but whatever it is both New England and New Orleans are operating without a road map and might use each other to advance forward.