Is Saints quarterback Drew Brees underpaid?


He’s the most prolific passer in NFL history, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Is he getting short-changed on his salary?

New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, is a first ballot Hall of Famer and the most prolific passer in the history of the game. It’s not enough that he’s thrown for more yards than any other QB ever. It’s not enough that he had a 54-game stretch throwing at least one TD pass.

It is also the fact that he’s got the highest completion percentage in NFL history 74.4-percent. Not only has he thrown for a lot of yards, he’s tremendously accurate doing it. Suffice it to say when history looks at Brees, he will be in the very upper echelon of QBs all-time.

And yet, as we sit today, Drew Brees isn’t the highest paid QB in the league. Not even close. While his $25 million a year salary is nothing to scoff at, it’s a full $10 million behind the new leader in the clubhouse, Russell Wilson, whose deal averages to $35 million annually. That’s not the craziest part. You need to go through another seven quarterbacks before you get to Brees’ number on the highest paid list. Eight total QB’s make more in annual salary than Brees.

This is not a Drew Brees should get paid more article. There are factors that have Brees at the current number he holds. This is simply a fuller look at where Brees stands in salary and what it means to the New Orleans Saints.

Brees’ latest contract was a two-year deal signed in March of 2018, just days before he could have become a free agent. Even when he signed that deal, he was not the highest paid QB in the NFL. The last time he was the highest paid guy was in 2012 when he signed a 5 year $100 million deal.

There is much jockeying and restructuring money in large contracts, particularly with the Saints. Brees is no different. He has never been asked to take a pay cut, but they’ve paid him some of his monies in the form of bonuses so they can get more cap space to sign other players.

And while he’s not been the highest paid player in the game for some time, his money has been consistent and has increased. He signed a one-year extension in 2016 (for the 2017 Season) for $24.25 million prior to signing his latest deal. Part of the deal with his increasing salary is simply the increase in the salary cap. Every season the cap goes up due to the tremendous TV deal the NFL has. While Brees’ money has increased, his percentage of the cap has always remained near the 12% range, which is not uncommon for your franchise QB.

What is so insane with the NFL and its 32 member teams is the players who are ahead of Brees. Russell Wilson has been solid. He’s a very good QB on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He already has two Super Bowl appearances with one ring. But he’s not Drew Brees. A case can be made for the next 3 guys on the list: Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. They are generally playoff caliber QBs. But that’s about where it stops.

Next on the list is Kirk Cousins, who has been good but not great. Note that there is maybe only one player on that list that has a similar status to Brees and that’s Aaron Rodgers. is the one person who has the same type standing as Brees. Other than that, we have to look at the outlandishness of the escalating QB salaries.

Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Wilson have Super Bowl rings. Matt Ryan appeared in a Super Bowl before signing his latest deal. The other four? Five total playoff appearances. Two for Cousins, zero for Garoppolo as a starter, three for Stafford. Zero for Carr, though he did lead the Raiders to a playoff in 2016 only to get injured and wasn’t able to play in the playoffs. Rewarding mediocrity.

Meanwhile, when we look at what really matters,  going deep in the playoffs, in this season’s championships you had Brees at $25 million, Tom Brady at what amounts to $20.5 million, Jared Goff still playing on his rookie deal at just under $7 million, and Patrick Mahomes also on his rookie deal at $4.1 million. The year before was Brady again, along with Blake Bortles (now gone from Jacksonville), Case Keenum (now gone from Minnesota), and the duo of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Wentz was still on a rookie deal and Foles was a reserve. Of course, today, Foles has parlayed his backup successes into a starting role with Jacksonville at $22 million annually.

But it’s easy to see looking at the nature of the game, that while QB is that position of greatest value, and if you don’t have a franchise QB you’re behind the game, overpaying for a QB is somewhat fruitless. Over the last few seasons, defense has become important again, as most of the conference championship participants featured solid defenses. In the case of the Jaguars in the 2017 season, defense alone almost got them to the Super Bowl.

So, is Drew Brees underpaid? Relative to his overall success, one could argue he is. Relative to the lack of production of the guys in front of his, that argument also can be made. But contracts change from year to year. And with Brady and his six rings behind 16 other starting QBs, it’s hard to play that game. With Brees’ advancing age, it’s difficult to justify paying him what a 30-year old Russell Wilson gets, at least in terms of a long-term deal. Brees’ salary is just fine.

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The real question will be after this season ends and Brees’ contract is up, what then? And how much? And how much considering all the other deals that will have to be done during the 2020 off-season?