Drew Brees situation has 2013 challenges

Back in March, I wrote this column about how a potential long-term contract for quarterback Drew Brees could gut the New Orleans Saints.

The premise was simple. If the Saints gave Brees big money, they might not be able to keep all the players they wanted. The Saints still haven’t signed Brees and he’s been counting for more than $16 million as the franchise player. The Saints and Brees still hope to get a long-term deal by next week’s deadline.

So far, general manager Mickey Loomis has done an excellent job of spreading money around to keep the Saints from losing a lot. They’ve restructured several contracts to free up cap room. They did lose guard Carl Nicks, receiver Robert Meachem, cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar as free agents, but I think Nicks was the only one the Saints had a real strong interest in keeping.

Loomis was able to replace Nicks with Ben Grubbs. He also added linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

But, still, the Saints don’t have a long-term deal done with Brees and no matter how that situation plays out, there could be big implications in the short term and the long term. The Saints might have to release some players to make room for Brees with a long-term deal and John Clayton mentions linebacker Will Herring, running back Pierre Thomas, tight end David Thomas and safety Roman Harper as potential salary-cap casualties in the short term.

Clayton also points out that if Brees ends up playing for the franchise tag this year, the Saints could have to use the tag again next offseason and the cost would jump to $23.6 million.

That’s another reason why the Saints have to get a deal done with Brees in the next week. They were hurt -- but not entirely gutted -- this offseason. If they have to start next offseason with Brees counting $23.6 million toward the cap, they’re going to have to release some players and they also will have a tough time keeping potential free agents like Devery Henderson, Sedrick Ellis, Jermon Bushrod, Scott Shanle and Jonathan Casillas.