Burbank's ruling means if Brees does not sign a long-term contract this summer and plays out the 2012 season under his current franchise number, the 2013 season is the last time he can be tagged. In addition, a tag in 2013 would earn him a pay raise of 44 percent.
The NFL Players Association had asked Burbank to determine whether Brees has been hit with the franchise tag in 2012 for a first or second time, because the language in the collective bargaining agreement is vague.
The Saints placed their exclusive rights tag on Brees earlier this offseason, but his first team, the San Diego Chargers, placed the tag on Brees in 2005 after his rookie contract expired.
The union's position is the CBA intended for a player to be franchised no more than three times, regardless of which team places the tags.
In making his ruling, Burbank said all franchise tags will be viewed this way in the future.
"We are very pleased that that the arbitrator agreed with the NFLPA that the correct interpretation of the "third time" Franchise Player designation in the CBA applies across clubs, and a player's rights will not be unfairly hindered if different clubs designate him as a Franchise Player during his career," the NFLPA said in a statement. " ... This ruling will help all Franchise Players in the future. We are very happy that Drew Brees has clarification on this matter, and we hope that it facilitates a successful negotiation for Drew and the Saints."
Brees' current tag is worth $16.371 million, which won't change with the ruling. However, taking into account the 44 percent raise, a would-be tag in 2013 would put Brees' cap number at $23,574,240, according to ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton. If the Saints chose to use their exclusive-rights tag on Brees in 2013, that would put his two-year earnings at $39,945,240, or a little less than $20 million per year.
"This was not a Drew Brees issue," the Saints quarterback said in a text message to ESPN's Ed Werder. "This was designed to clarify language in the CBA. I just happen to be the one it affects right now. I am in an unusual situation, having already been franchised by a former team. The ruling seems to make perfect sense."
The NFL declined comment on Burbank's finding or whether it intends to appeal, which the league could do. The Saints also did not return a message seeking comment.
The Saints and Brees are locked in a protracted contract battle and have until July 16 to hammer out a long-term extension.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.