METAIRIE, La. — Saints quarterback Drew Brees decided against holding out for the lengthy contract extension he coveted and took one for the team.
Brees agreed to new contract that keeps him in New Orleans through the 2017 season, and a person familiar with the deal says it guarantees the record-setting QB $44.3 million the next two years.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Wednesday because financial details of the extension had not been announced.
The deal also provides the Saints with nearly $13 million in additional spending flexibility under the 2016 salary cap as the team continues to shuffle the roster in advance of Sunday’s regular season opener at home against Oakland.
Earlier this summer, Brees had stated that he believes he can play at an elite level at least another five years.
“I wanted the contract to reflect that, naturally, and have it be the last contract that I signed,” Brees said. “But it was in the best interest of the team to make it a little bit shorter. And I think that just made everyone a bit more comfortable and it still put us in a very good position to go out and do the things we need to do to continue to build the team and put us in the best position to succeed.
“And that to me was the most important thing.”
The contract runs for five years, starting this season, and includes a $30 million bonus that, for now, can be prorated over that period, reducing the $30 million that Brees’ old contract would have counted against the Saints’ salary cap this season down to a little more than $17 million. The deal also has a no-trade clause, but the final three seasons are voidable, meaning the Saints and Brees, who turns 38 in January, will have to revisit the possibility of another extension next year.
“This allows me to be around here for a bit longer, and I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me,” Brees said. “My mindset is always everything happens for a reason and everything will happen the way it’s supposed to.”
The Saints should have more flexibility to make moves with Brees’ extension.
Last week, the Saints brought in defensive end Paul Kruger, a pass rushing specialist who was recently released by Cleveland.
Then on Wednesday, the Saints agreed to bring back veteran right guard Jahri Evans, who had been released by the Saints last winter and signed with Seattle, but did not make the Seahawks’ final cut.
On Tuesday, the Saints cut kicker Kai Forbath and brought in rookie Wil Lutz.
Brees owns Saints franchise records in virtually every passing category, having thrown for 48,555 yards and 348 touchdowns in 10 seasons with the club, which signed him as a free agent after San Diego decided not to offer Brees an extension and elevate Philip Rivers to starter. He also was named Super Bowl MVP when the Saints’ 2009 squad won New Orleans’ only NFL championship.
His yards passing total with New Orleans is the most by any NFL quarterback in a 10-year span in league history.
Brees had stated this summer that, in an effort to prevent his contract talks from becoming a distraction, that he would break off negotiations before the first game of the regular season. That meant the Saints had to reach an agreement with their star quarterback by this week to lock down Brees beyond this season while gaining the financial flexibility they sought.
Brees was about to enter the final season of a five-year, $100 million contract he signed in 2012, one season after setting a then NFL-record with 5,476 yards passing. He also threw for 46 touchdowns in 2011, when the offense he ran piled up an NFL-record 7,474 yards.
The Saints’ prolific QB again led the league in passing last season, but ultimately did not hold out for a contract that would pay him like the NFL’s younger, top-tier QBs. In June, for example, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck agreed to an extension worth up to $140 million for the next six seasons, which averages out to about $23.3 million per year.
Brees’ deal comes about six months after coach Sean Payton, who designed the offense that Brees has run, agreed to an extension in New Orleans through 2020. Now the coach and QB tandem will try to make a run at another Super Bowl.
Notes: The Saints released third-string QB Garrett Grayson, a 2015 third-round draft choice, but could potentially bring him back as a practice squad player if he clears waivers.