Drew Brees, Saints taking contract talks down to the wire

METAIRIE, La. -- There is still no reason to fear that Drew Brees will suddenly reverse course and decide to leave the New Orleans Saints for a bigger offer elsewhere this week.

His contract talks with the Saints are expected to pick up steam on Monday morning. And the really important deadline doesn’t come until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

But the two sides are cutting things a little close.

Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, can legally begin discussing his client with other teams as of noon ET Monday. And Brees will officially be free to sign with other teams on Wednesday.

Monday’s deadline isn’t that big of a deal, really. Sure, Brees might find out definitively that one or more teams are willing to throw a monster contract his way -- and it’s a little risky for the Saints to leave that door open.

But it’s no secret that other teams would be willing to pay big money to secure a Hall of Fame quarterback of Brees’ caliber. Yet the 39-year-old repeatedly has vowed that he plans to be a “Saint for life” and isn’t interested in talking to other teams, even though he knows the Saints would prefer to pay him just one year at a time at this stage of his career.

But Wednesday is a serious deadline not only because Brees will be free to sign elsewhere. If he remains unsigned, then $18 million in dead money from his old contract will immediately start counting against New Orleans' 2018 salary cap. The Saints obviously would prefer to work out a new contract before then, allowing them to spread out Brees’ cap costs into future years.

And presumably Brees would want that, too, since he doesn’t want to put the Saints in a bad financial position as they chase another Super Bowl together.

Still, it’s not all surprising that this deal is coming down to the wire. That’s how it always has gone with Brees’ extensions with the Saints (when he signed days before the franchise-tag deadline in 2012 and days before the regular season started in 2016). As much as the Saints and Brees love each other, Condon and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis still don’t ever want to be the guy who blinks first.

When it finally does get done, chances are Brees’ contract will look an awful lot like that last extension he signed just four days before the 2016 season opener.

That deal included one of the top salaries in the NFL (one new year at $24.25 million). But it included only one new year of guaranteed money. And it included three years that automatically voided for salary-cap purposes.

I expect Brees to once again be paid among the top players in the game (perhaps $25 million-plus?). But I expect him to cut the Saints a break on the length, with only about one year fully guaranteed. Last year, for example, Brees was perfectly willing to let the final year of his contract play out, without demanding extra years of guaranteed salary to be tacked on.

That willingness to play one year at a time has been Brees’ version of a hometown discount.

There’s no reason to expect anything different this time around -- even though both sides are adding a little last-minute drama to the equation.