Blackhawks

Why does Drew Brees remain unsigned?

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Why does Drew Brees remain unsigned?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still must close a significant gap in guaranteed money if they are to agree on a five-year contract worth about 100 million by Monday's looming deadline for a long-term deal, said a person familiar with the negotiations. The sides were more than 10 million apart in the guaranteed portion of the contract on Wednesday, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing. The stakes are high for both sides and the negotiations have lasted for months, including long gaps in communication between the two camps. Brees, who is 33 and entering his 12th season, has never before had the chance to negotiate a contract on par with the elite quarterbacks of the game. The Saints, meanwhile, risk alienating the best quarterback in franchise history, not to mention their fan base, by failing to make an offer to his satisfaction by Monday -- the deadline for players with the franchise tag to sign long-term deals. Several months ago, Brees first raised the possibility that he would not report to the opening of training camp if all that was on the table at that time was the one-year franchise tag of about 16.3 million. People familiar with the quarterback's plans say that remains the case. Brees has said he does not want to play under a one-year contract with no long-term security in the coming seasons. He did it once before, with costly consequences, when he played under the franchise tag for San Diego in 2005 and wound up with a career-threatening injury to his throwing shoulder. That injury led him to accept a six-year, 60 million deal with New Orleans in 2006, which left him playing for well below market value during the past few seasons, even as he was setting club and league records. Brees had hoped that an extension would be done before 2011, but when it was not, he decided against holding out and played without the security of a long-term contract. He remained healthy the entire season and passed for an NFL single-season record 5,476 yards. Brees considered that an act of faith in the Saints, and now he is expecting that faith be returned in the form of a contract that not only would give him the highest average annual salary in the game, but also guarantee a significant portion of his salary. In the NFL, players can be cut before their contracts expire, and while signing and subsequent year option bonuses are guaranteed, base salaries are not. General manager Mickey Loomis has said he understands that Brees' contract is the most important deal on which he has worked in his front office career. However, he has stressed that such a deal, with the potential to affect the team's ability to sign other players, must be entered into with caution. Both sides have offered proposals that would give the Saints more flexibility under the NFL's salary cap in the next three years than New Orleans would have if Brees played for the franchise tag. In those proposals, a relatively low base salary number in the early years would be offset by guaranteed signing and option bonuses that are pro-rated, for salary cap purposes, over the life of the contract. If the Saints were to use their franchise tag on Brees again in 2013, they would have to pay him about 23.5 million, which represents a significantly higher salary cap figure than what either side's five-year proposal calls for in that season. Such a contract structure would increase the salary cap burden of Brees' deal significantly in the final years, but the salary cap likely will be higher by then. The current salary cap is about 120 million, but could rise substantially under a new NFL TV deal that will begin in 2014. Under the league's current labor agreement, players are supposed to receive about 55 percent of TV revenues. If the two sides can narrow their differences on the guarantees, the remaining portions of the contract should be easier to figure out. Both sides are working from a framework of five years. The difference in the annual average pay is about 1.25 million, with the Saints' last offer at about 19.25 million and Brees' last proposal at about 20.5 million. However, it is not yet clear how much Brees is willing to come down from his annual figure, which some in his camp have argued is low, based on past trends. Peyton Manning recently signed a five-year, 96 million deal, which averages 19.2 million. Manning is three years older than Brees and did not play last season because of neck surgery. Meanwhile, teams have had a history of offering new contracts to elite players which represent annual multimillion dollar increases over the previous top contract for a player at the same position. Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson's last contract averages 16.2 million a year, which exceeds the previous benchmark deal of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald by more than 1 million per year. Even major contracts can be negotiated quickly under deadline pressure, and the types of differences the Saints and Brees have now can be resolved in less than a day, so there remains plenty of time to work out a deal. However, if the deadline passes without a long-term contract, Brees could still hold out for a one-year contract worth more than the current franchise tag. Brees also could hold out until the Saints put it in writing that they will not use the franchise tag on him again next season, allowing him to test the open market.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.