The first of two big dominoes long rumored to fall in New Orleans this offseason stayed standing Wednesday when Sean Payton turned back a wave of speculation by reaffirming his desire to keep coaching the Saints.
The second domino sounds like it hasn’t even started to wobble.
Drew Brees is set to enter the final year of his contract in 2016 with a salary-cap hit of $30 million — a hard number to swallow for a Saints team that has $155,861,293 in contracts on the books for next season, a season in which the salary cap is expected to be set somewhere from $150-153 million. Because of those numbers, Brees might have to sign an extension — and the NFL Network has indicated Brees will have to give the Saints a hometown discount — to return in New Orleans.
Payton put a damper on speculation Brees might leave Wednesday, saying it’s safe to expect Brees back.
“I think that is a good assumption,” Payton said. “He and I met on Monday, and it was crystal clear: I’m not wanting to coach anywhere else or anyone else right now.”
Brees is coming off a season that proved he’s still plenty capable of carrying a team toward the playoffs.
Forced to deal with a bruised rotator cuff and a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, Brees completed 68.3 percent of his passes for an NFL-best 4,870 yards, 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, tied for his lowest in any season with New Orleans.
But the performance went beyond the numbers.
“He played outstanding this season. Gutsy, man,” Payton said. “This last stretch, minus the (Travaris) Cadet fumble there right down on the 2-yard line (against Atlanta) — that’s four weeks in a row, would have been, without a turnover offensively. I’m proud of how he is playing and how he is working. It’s easier for me not to look at a number, with regards to age, when you are evaluating someone like that, to really just look at what you are seeing.”
Brees, for his part, has no desire to leave.
Entrenched as a business owner in the community, Brees said would like to finish his career as a Saint.
“I plan on playing in New Orleans as long as my career goes, and I hope that’s at least a few more years, quite a bit longer,” Brees told WWL-AM on Wednesday night. “I don’t plan on playing anywhere else, I don’t plan on playing for another coach, and I’m very confident that as those things come together, everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”
Brees is also aware that he and the Saints might have to find a new agreement, given the salary-cap ramifications — even though he’s repeatedly said any contract talks will remain between him and the Saints.
“I know my cap number is really high next year,” Brees said. “As money is guaranteed throughout the course of my contract, it basically pushes some of the onus of that into my last year, and next year’s my last year. So obviously, that cap number is very high.”
Brees and the Saints expect the contract situation to work itself out.
After so many years together, neither quarterback nor coach wants to break up a tandem that has produced 87 wins, among the top 10 for any duo in NFL history.
“My hair has gotten a little grayer, and he has lost some of his,” Payton said. “That’s about all that has changed.”