For fans, the focus of free agency is often singular, especially when an irreplaceable star player is involved. Player X has to be retained, and if Player X leaves, then Team Y is absolutely screwed.

This is true with Drew Brees, and Saints fans with that mindset aren’t wrong. But for New Orleans, the need and urgency to reach a new deal with their record-setting quarterback extends far beyond him to other crucial areas of their offense. And since there’s still reportedly a wide chasm separating the Saints and Brees at the negotiating table, there are stiff consequences that come with entering free agency without Brees locked up long-term.

Earlier this morning ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that a deal which was once thought to be inevitable is now lagging. February turns into March tonight, and with free agency less than two weeks away and the deadline to use a franchise tag coming up on Monday, there’s now a very real possibility that the Saints will have to burn their tag on Brees.

By doing that, they’ll secure Brees, but likely lose either one of his top targets, his primary protector, or both. It’s far more than just Brees at stake in these negotiations, as both pending free agents Marques Colston and Carl Nicks are dangling too.

From Schefter:

As it stands right now, the team and Brees are struggling to strike the deal that many around the league expected to be done by now.

Gagnon outlined the Saints’ looming quagmire last week, and now a week later a deadline that could change one of the league’s most electrifying offenses is just days away.

The cost of tagging Brees is about $16 million, and with $20 million in cap room to retain their quarterback, top wideout, and one of the league’s premier offensive linemen, Nicks’ exit would almost certainly be guaranteed. We know this because he’s expressed a desire to make more than teammate and fellow guard Jahri Evans, which would be a cool pay stub of $8 million per year.

The estimated cost of the franchise tag for wide receivers and offensive linemen will likely be very similar (about $9.4 million). But with Robert Meachem also set to leave as a free agent, losing Colston too would result in a severely depleted receiving corps for Brees, and New Orleans may not get the full reward for the massive investment they’re about about to make in their quarterback.

Add it all up, and Nicks has likely played his last game in the Big Easy if Brees is tagged before Monday.

And the rest…

  • In one of the most predictable moves of the offseason, New England has reportedly asked Chad Ochocinco to restructure his contract. Ocho now essentially has two options: play at a significantly reduced rate from the $3 million he was paid this year for 15 catches, or fade away from football forever. [NESN]
  • If he chooses option No. 2, Ocho will have a lot more time to eat delicious pancakes on International Pancake Day. [Gossip On This]
  • For some perspective on how ludicrous Ochocinco’s paycheck was in 2011, please look at his pathetic production again, and note that he only made $1.5 million less than Vince Wilfork. [Mike Reiss]
  • The Raiders already have $145.7 million tied up in payroll, meaning that if the salary cap number hovers around $120 million as expected, they have some massive slashing to do over the next two weeks before free agency. [PFT]
  • Plaxico Burress will be a free agent on March 13, and he’d really like to be an Eagle. In fact, nothing would make him happier. [USA Today]
  • Braylon Edwards could return to the Jets and replace the departing Burress. [The Jets Blog]
  • Debating the upside and potential future of a player based on a difference of several nano seconds in the 40-yard dash has also been a silly practice as the dust settles and we evaluate the NFL Scouting Combine. But we’ll all do it anyway, so why not just arbitrarily pick the player who excelled most in those arbitrary Combine events? [Total Steelers]
  • Smokescreens in various forms are a fine art during the offseason, and the Falcons have already released a preliminary assault. [The Falcoholic]
  • If the space/time continuum made it possible for us to assemble the best Browns players since 1999 and have them all play in their prime, they still wouldn’t be that good. And sadly, Tim Couch would be the starting quarterback. [Waiting for Next Year]
  • The Bucs are incredibly foolish if they draft Trent Richardson with their fifth overall pick. [Pewter Plank]
  • Colts fans have plenty to worry about right now, but Pierre Garcon shouldn’t be on that list, or at least not yet. The free agent wide receiver turned down Indy’s first offer, but the negotiation process is, well, a process. [Indianapolis Star]