If Saints don't make a deal with Drew Brees, then the Broncos should

Payton expects Brees to re-sign soon (1:17)

Saints coach Sean Payton explains why he expects a deal with Drew Brees to be finalized soon. (1:17)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s easy to see what the tea leaves say about Drew Brees and the possibility that a future Hall of Fame quarterback actually hits the open market when free agency formally opens Wednesday in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has publicly declared that he’s not the least bit worried that his franchise quarterback could become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday afternoon. When asked about a new contract for Brees on the set of NFL Live, Payton said, "I know it’s going to get done."

Brees also has openly declared his desire to sign a new deal with the Saints, and the team's decision-makers met with Brees’ agent -- Tom Condon -- at the recent NFL scouting combine.

Still, there's no deal yet.

But if the negotiating window opens Monday and the Saints still haven’t signed Brees, then Denver Broncos general manager John Elway should scroll through the ol’ contacts on his cellphone, ring up Condon and ask the multi-million dollar question.

How much?

The Broncos essentially went north of $90 million, plenty of it guaranteed, to sign Peyton Manning when they weren’t even sure the quarterback would return to anything close to 100 percent from a missed 2011 season after his fourth neck surgery. So, this ain't their first rodeo in something like this.

Yes, Brees turned 39 in January -- Manning had turned 36 just days after the Broncos signed him in March 2012. But Brees has only missed two games in his 12 years with the Saints, and the last time the guy didn’t throw for at least 4,000 yards in a season was in 2006.

He’s got five 5,000-yard seasons sprinkled in that run, with nine 30-touchdown seasons and four seasons with at least 37 touchdown passes.

In short, Brees is basically the safest bet imaginable, and it’s almost unconscionable the Saints have let him get this close to actually seeing what others might pay him.

Brees’ roots in the New Orleans community are beyond deep. His work in the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery -- his presence, really -- will long make him an important figure in the city's history, well beyond any football field. It’s Manning’s hometown, and he often said in his time with the Broncos how much Brees had done in New Orleans and how important it was to the people there.

The quirk of history in all of this is Elway’s father, Jack, was ill in 2001. It was the last draft class he reviewed in a life of football.

John Elway has spoken of those weeks in early 2001 that he spent with his father, talking about football and life. And Elway has said, "I’ll always remember" what was said about the guy his dad called his favorite player of that draft.

An undersized, break-the-mold quarterback from Purdue named Drew Brees.

And if the gates of negotiation formally open Monday, and Brees still doesn’t have that hey-it's-no-problem deal with the Saints, the Broncos should make a call and get right to the bottom line.

How much?