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Exclusive franchise tag for Brees could cost Saints less than $16 million

Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 36-32. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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If the Saints want to keepDrew Brees from having the ability to sign an offered with a team that would be willing to give the Saints two first-round draft picks as compensation for a “very good” quarterback, it won’t cost them as much in 2012 as previously believed.

The non-exclusive franchise tender for quarterbacks is expected to be in the range of a one-year, $14.4 million salary. The exclusive franchise tender, which will be based on the 2012 salary cap numbers for the five highest-paid quarterbacks, currently is expected to fall in the range of $15 million to $16 million.

As a source with knowledge of the calculation explained to PFT this afternoon, the upcoming release of Peyton Manning and restructurings by quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, whose cap number for 2012 plummeted from $16.92 million to $8.895 million, will drive down the average for the top five quarterbacks. (That said, if a team like the Chiefs signs Peyton Manning to a front-loaded deal with a huge cap number in 2012, the average for the five highest-paid quarterbacks will be higher.)

Despite the risk of a quarterback contract with a skewed 2012 cap number, the downward trend makes use of the exclusive tender a no-brainer for the Saints. And it’s likely prompting the team to be willing to employ Brees on a year-to-year basis. If, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports, Brees wants a deal that pays out an average of $23 million annually for the first three years, the Saints could choose instead to pay him, based on the high side of the estimate, $16 million this year, $19.2 million in 2013 (i.e., 120 percent of the 2012 number, as required by the CBA), and $27.648 million in 2014 (i.e., 144 percent of the 2013 number, as required by the CBA). That’s a total of $62.848 million over three years, more than $6 million less than the $69 million Brees supposedly wants in that same period.

That said, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Brees hasn’t asked for $23 million annually over three years. Still, as long as Brees’ number is higher than $20.9 million, the year-to-year approach makes sense.

Of course, in three years the Saints would have to end the dance, since under the CBA the tender would rocket to $39.8 million. By then, however, Brees will be 36. And the question will be whether he wants to play the last few seasons of his career in New Orleans, or elsewhere.