After drowning in legalese and enough litigation to qualify me to be an extra on Law and Order last offseasn during the lockout, I learned something. Actually, I learned several things, but mostly this: as much as us writer folk are captivated by every ounce of minutiae emerging from a courtroom that’s making a decision tied to the NFL, fans only care if it has a legitimate, long-term impact.
Welp, sports fans, this is one of those times when you should care. A lot.
Part of the ongoing hurry up and wait feel that’s continually stalled the Drew Brees contract negotiations in New Orleans was a question about the language in the CBA regarding the use of franchise tags. It’s always been known that a player can only be tagged three times, but Brees sought clarification from arbitrator Stephen Burbank as to whether or not that meant three times throughout his career, or three times with one team.
The former answer was widely expected, and that’s the one Burbank delivered today, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. The result of this gut punch to the Saints is that with Brees franchised this year and also tagged earlier in his career with the Chargers, he can only be tagged one more time. Also, if he’s franchised again next spring then Brees is entitled to a 144 percent raise, meaning he’d be paid a rather monstrous salary of $23.6 million for the 2013 season, a sizable raise from his tag value of $16.4 million this year.
As far as Brees is concerned, this likely–and hopefully…really, really hopefully–won’t matter. The Saints are still engaged in a somewhat confusing standoff with their franchise QB that’s mostly really just the standard posturing seen in any contract negotiation. While the rising level of angst among the often only semi-clothed Who Dat Nation is understandable, this is still a deadline-oriented business, and the likelihood that a long-term deal is completed prior to the July 16 deadline to sign franchise tenders still remains high.
However, this decision gives Brees much more leverage since he can now make over $40 million over the next two years through the franchise tag. It also puts added pressure on the Saints to reach a long-term agreement this summer since they’ve now lost the ability to secure their most important player beyond next year, when Brees will still be just 34 years old.
But beyond Brees and New Orleans, Burbank’s ruling sets a favorable precedent for the league’s most elite players, and especially at quarterback, a position where the top tier players often still thrive and play at a high level into their late 30s. Young arms filled with tremendous upside and potential (think Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III) now know that they can have their payday dictated to them by their team only three times throughout careers that often last over 15 years.
To retain those elite, franchise players, teams may now be more conservative with their use of the tag, and more open to long-term deals. And the players know it.