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Drew Brees' market value soars as QBs sign huge deals

There was no sense of urgency from the New Orleans Saints or quarterback Drew Brees to work out a new contract extension before free agency kicked off last week -- even though it could open up another $10 million or so in salary-cap space.

That could change now that New Orleans has pretty much used up all of its cap space during the past week. But my guess is that the Saints have avoided pressing the issue so they're not acting out of desperation or giving Brees any more leverage than he already has with one year remaining on his current contract.

Another possible reason for the delay: Brees' market value has continued to soar in the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Joe Flacco's new contract extension with the Baltimore Ravens, worth $22.1 million per year, raised the bar for Brees.

Since then, that bar has shot through the roof.

Sam Bradford signed a two-year deal worth $17.5 million per year. Kirk Cousins got franchise-tagged at just under $20 million. Then came the biggest jaw-dropper of them all: Brock Osweiler, with seven career starts to his name, signed a four-year deal with Houston worth $18 million per year.

And perhaps most relevant, even New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- who has muddled the market a bit by taking hometown discounts in recent years -- signed a two-year extension worth $20.5 million per year in new money.

Since Brees signed his current five-year, $100 million contract in 2012, nine different quarterbacks have signed richer deals or extensions. Flacco has now topped him twice. More than half of the NFL's quarterbacks now make more than $17 million per year, including Bradford, Osweiler, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Tannehill.

Add all of those monster numbers together, and the end result is that Brees would be well within his rights to seek more than $22 million per year.

If Brees somehow hit the open market, it's not crazy to think that some QB-starved team might offer $25 million. Again, see: Osweiler, Brock.

So, no, don't count me among those who have been blaming Brees' contract for the Saints' struggles in recent years. That's what quarterbacks cost, and he has practically been a bargain compared to the rest of the league.

Even at age 37, Brees remains one of the NFL's best. He offered a reminder of that last year while leading the NFL with 4,870 passing yards in just 15 games played and throwing seven TD passes in a win against the New York Giants.

The more important question, though, is whether Brees will push to max out his value or "settle" for a contract like Flacco or Brady signed.

If Brees is willing to accept less than $22 million per year, I imagine a deal could come together pretty quickly.

If he wants more, he's worth it, but it might take a little longer to work out.

Technically, the Saints could afford to let Brees play out the final year of his contract, even though he is due to count $30 million against the salary cap. But then they would risk losing him on the open market next year.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has stressed that the main reason the Saints want to extend Brees is because they want him to remain their quarterback in 2017 and beyond -- even more than they care about lowering their 2016 salary-cap figure.

However, the cap savings would be an obvious perk, too. Now, the Saints are probably down to about $1 million in salary-cap space.

Even if Brees signs an extension worth more than $22 million per year, he could shave more than $10 million off his 2016 cap figure, depending on how the Saints structure the contract.

As I've written, there's no reason to expect that Brees will take a hometown discount -- and there's no reason the Saints should demand one. Brady is really the only top quarterback who has done so in recent years, though Peyton Manning also probably left some money on the table when he could have created a bidding war as a free agent in 2012.

Brees is repped by power agent Tom Condon, who represents several of the NFL's top quarterbacks, including both Peyton and Eli Manning -- which makes him plenty motivated to keep raising that bar for others to come.

And Brees himself is a longtime former member of the NFL Players Association's executive committee. So he knows his deal will help set a precedent for other players.

Of course, Brees also could be motivated to help his current team by leaving some salary-cap room to build a better roster around him. And I would be among many analysts who would surely praise him for doing so.

But if Brees keeps raising that QB salary bar, at least the Saints should consider themselves fortunate they have one worth paying.