Options narrow as Chargers rule out tagging Brees

The Chargers have all but ruled out the possibility of placing the franchise or transition tag on quarterback Drew Brees, leaving them only two options: signing him to a new contract or letting him hit the free-agent market.

For a month, the Chargers had been considering the transition designation for Brees following his shoulder surgery because it gave them the flexibility of keeping his rights but not offering him a guaranteed contract. But an interpretation from the NFL Management Council late this week scared them out of that concept.

Because Brees had the franchise tag in 2005 and his $8.078 million salary was guaranteed, the league interpreted two things. First, the tender offer for Brees' transition tag would have to be at 120 percent of his 2005 salary instead of the 2006 quarterback transition number of $8.327 million. That means Brees would have to be offered $9.7 million by the Chargers. Second, there can be a case made that because his principle terms of the 2005 franchise tag was guaranteed, Brees' 2006 transition tag could also be considered a guaranteed offer.

The Chargers could ask for a hearing to determine whether that was the case or not, but instead have ruled out giving him the franchise or transition tag.

In the meantime, negotiations between Brees and the Chargers have continued all week. General manager A.J. Smith said he wanted to keep all three of his quarterbacks -- Brees, Philip Rivers and A.J. Feeley. Earlier this week, the Chargers worked out a two-year, $2 million deal for Feeley. Rivers is entering the third year of a six-year contract.

If Brees isn't signed to a new contract by March 3, he will be a free agent.