Carl Nicks can breathe easier, but Saints fans won’t be sleeping any better after the team slapped the franchise tag on Drew Brees today.

That means that if the Saints and Brees can’t come to terms on a long-term deal between now and the deadline to sign franchise tenders in July, Brees will cost approximately $16 million in 2012, leaving the Saints in a jam when it comes to finding cap space for impending free agents such as Nicks, Marques Colston and Tracy Porter.

A report this week suggested that the two parties were $5 million apart, which is surprising considering that another report stated Brees turned down an offer that would have made him the highest-paid player in NFL history.

While Brees and the Saints have plenty of time to work something out, this development means that Nicks, Colston and Porter will hit the open market if they can’t be signed to long-term deals between now and March 13. And if that happens, it’s hard to imagine New Orleans will be able to re-sign all three.

In fact, there’s a decent chance they lose ‘em all.

Combine yesterday’s breaking news with today’s less surprising but still daunting news, and only two years after being on top of the football world, the Saints are officially locked in turmoil.