Drew Brees was never going anywhere.
Not even in the first frantic hours of free agency, when a flurry of national reports indicated that other teams had reached out to the New Orleans Saints legend — the first time in a long time that Brees has gotten to hear what his true market value might be.
Whatever the timing of the agreement, the rest of the NFL expected Brees to ultimately re-sign with the Saints. Brees has been saying he'd be back since the end of the season in January; the organization has always reciprocated.
Expectation became reality on the eve of free agency Tuesday. the team locked up the best player in franchise history with a two-year, $50 million extension that includes $27 million in guaranteed money.
Brees often professes his love for New Orleans, and he knows his best chance to win a second Super Bowl ring is right here.
"I feel like we have a great window of opportunity," Brees said in January, back when he first began emphatically stating his intention to return.
Recent NFL history is on his side. For a half-decade now, the Super Bowl has always featured quarterbacks comparable to Brees — legendary passers in the final years of their Hall of Fame careers. Five years in a row, one half of the Super Bowl matchup was either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Neither situation is a perfect comparison. Manning had to leave for a new team to win his second Super Bowl; Brady is at the helm of a Patriots team that never really went through the kind of valley the Saints just escaped.
On the other hand, one common thread is obvious. No position in the NFL matters more than quarterback, and when a truly great quarterback has the right supporting cast, it's hard to keep him out of the game's biggest stage.
New Orleans finally seems poised to give Brees the chance to join the other two legendary quarterbacks of his generation in a twilight shot at a Super Bowl ring. Forced to rebuild on the fly after the core of the Saints' first Super Bowl team faded away, New Orleans slogged through three straight 7-9 seasons before finally breaking out last year.
Brees has what he needs now: one of the NFL's best offensive lines, a talented young group of skill players led by wide receiver Michael Thomas and running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and a defense that can finally carry its own weight after years of futility.
New Orleans was one play away from the NFC Championship Game last season, and players around the NFL are noticing. As the NFL descended into a free-agent frenzy shortly after news of Brees' signing broke Tuesday, veteran safety Kurt Coleman, recently signed from Carolina, said that free agents will consider the Saints heavily because of their Super Bowl chances.
"Had one play gone their way, they could have been in that same position," Coleman said. "This team has what it takes, they have all the intangibles."
According to an ESPN report, Brees could have gotten more money elsewhere, perhaps a two-year deal worth $60 million, all guaranteed. Brees signed instead with the Saints, who guaranteed only the first year and hold a team option for the second year of the deal.
Brees, who has been in New Orleans for 12 years and has a variety of business interests in the city, has always felt a special tie to the Saints.
He took less money to give the team the flexibility it needs to add players who can help him deliver the city a second Super Bowl championship.
Brees opted to not pass up that opportunity up for a few more dollars.
"Do I feel like this team has what it takes?" Brees asked after the heartbreaking playoff loss in Minnesota in January. "Yes I do."