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No good reason for Saints or Brees to blink until July

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Dan Parr
Associate editor

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By Dan Parr

In the offseason of their discontent, we’re inching closer to the beginning of the Saints’ organized team activities (OTAs).

They start May 22, and there is no indication that the team and QB Drew Brees are making progress in negotiations on a long-term contract. They apparently have not had substantial conversations in quite some time.

PFW correspondent Mike Triplett, a Saints beat writer for The Times-Picayune, reported Thursday that talks between the two sides “have been practically non-existent now for more than a month.”

Brees has already missed the first few weeks of the club’s offseason conditioning program, and it’s possible he won’t be there when the team gathers for practice on the 22nd.

No Breesus in Nawlins for the start of OTAs? I realize it would be a discouraging sign for some, but pardon me if I don’t gasp.

As long as Brees is in the fold by the time training camp gets under way in late July, I don’t see much reason for Saints fans to worry, and I don’t expect the Saints or Brees to allow this situation to explode into something that is really cause for concern.

I know folks say the franchise needs good P.R. and that signing Brees would give them a chance to change the subject from bounties and suspensions to a long-term agreement with one of the more beloved stars in the league.

Is everything all good if a team makes a business transaction with its most valuable player? It would be great news for the team and its fans, but in no way would it conceal or wash away the mark left on the club by the “Bountygate” investigation and the unpleasant details it unearthed. These are two different issues. There is work to be done to repair the damage done to their brand over the past few months.

Now, Brees, who received the exclusive franchise tag (worth about $16 million) earlier this offseason, isn’t barred from participating in the OTAs even if he has not signed his tender or a long-term deal by the time they begin. He would only need to sign an injury waiver and could take part in the practice sessions, but representatives will advise him not to take that step. Why would he sacrifice any leverage in negotiations at this juncture?

Unless GM Mickey Loomis has the long-term deal that Brees wants — reportedly a contract worth an average of about $23 million in each of the first three seasons — waiting for him at the team facility, there is no reason to expect Brees to show up.

I don’t mean to disregard OTAs as totally irrelevant. Many smart, experienced players, including Falcons QB Matt Ryan just last week, have stressed to me the importance of spending the time working with teammates in the offseason. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be there — as long as no one gets injured — but the next person to show me compelling evidence that it definitely helps would be the first to do so.

Aaron Rodgers laughed all the way to a division title and the MVP award last season when Packers players were criticized for not organizing workouts during the lockout. Brees did lead well-attended workouts for the Saints when the work stoppage was in effect.

Both the Saints and Packers had exceptional regular seasons in 2011, and they each exited in the divisional round of the playoffs, so whatever the Saints did during their workouts didn’t lead them to a better outcome than the Packers’ offseason “inaction” did.

It would have been nice if the Saints and Brees had worked out a deal before the tag was applied, and it would be terrific if they finalized a contract before OTAs get under way. Brees is the heart and soul of the team, and it could use more of both, as soon as possible, after all the penalties levied against them by commissioner Roger Goodell for their alleged “bounty” program.

But it’s not as if Brees needs to get acquainted with a bunch of new players on offense. Nine of the 10 players who started alongside Brees on offense vs. the 49ers in the divisional playoff game are still on the roster. There will be a change at left guard, with Ben Grubbs replacing Carl Nicks, but the only new player Brees really needs to establish a rhythm with is rookie Nick Toon, and he’s no higher than fourth on the depth chart at wide receiver.

Brees doesn’t need to learn a new offense. He knows the system that will be overseen by offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael while head coach Sean Payton serves his suspension.

We know Brees is taking care of himself and will stay in good shape. There are not many athletes out there right now who go about their business in a more professional manner than Brees.

All this works against him, in a way, during these thorny negotiations. The Saints can wait and wait, hoping that he’ll blink before they do.

The date to circle is July 16. That is the deadline for tagged players to sign a multiyear contract, and it’s the only deadline that truly matters at this point.

If that day passes and neither side has moved, they will deserve an outcome neither side prefers.

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