With lingering health concerns surrounding Peyton Manning, the best player entering 2012 NFL Free Agency is hands down New Orleans Saints star signal-caller Drew Brees.

The 6-0, 209-pound former Purdue Boilermaker was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft.  After five seasons in San Diego, Brees was dealt to New Orleans, where his impact in six seasons has been immeasurable.  The record-setting gunslinger has remained in contract conversations with the team for over a year, but the two sides have yet to reach accord.

Comparable contracts are clear for Brees with Tom Brady in 2010—the New England Patriots handed him a four-year, $72 million deal and Peyton Manning last season in the form of a five-year, $90 million contact—which in hindsight was too rich and risky and the Indianapolis Colts ultimately paid the price.

If General Manager Mickey Loomis can’t complete talks with the 33-year-old quarterback and his handlers in time, there’s a possibility he could designate Brees the Saints’ franchise player, Jeff Duncan notes on NOLA.com.  That tag must be applied by 3 p.m. on March 5, but it would give the sides the certainty they are believed to want while continuing negotiations on a long-term deal.

One possible knot, pointed out by SportingNews.com, “Brees could be looking for $100 million in his deal, according to various media reports, something Manning reportedly could have sought before accepting his $90 million pact.”

Part of the problem is the Saints also have several key pieces like wide outs Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Tracy Porter entering the open market.  Many expect one of the receivers to receive the boot and wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nicks heads elsewhere if Colston stays with the team and vice-versa.

Brian Allee-Walsh of SportsNOLA says that “I don’t think both will be playing for the Black and Gold next year and both could leave for greener pastures. I also think there probably is a greater sense of urgency to keep Nicks in the fold than Colston, although team officials would love to re-sign both.”

“Colston is the top wide receiving option for Brees, and has been for years,” writes Rob Kelly of The Pigskin Report.  ”But the single season record holder for most passing yards has no problem hitting Lance Moore or Devery Henderson as well. Oh, and he also seems to like throwing to that tight end of his, Jimmy Graham, who has already become one of the top two or three players at his position in a very short time.

With 5,087 yards, Brees is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 twice—he had 5,069 in 2008. In total he finished the season with 46 touchdowns and the passing record of 5,476 in total passing yards this past season.

Brees also became one of the first captains on his team during the lockout last summer to provide the Saints players practice sessions not only to build skills but build much-needed chemistry. Additionally he also took it upon himself for the minimum salary players to manage have some money and pay for their families if and when in need.  He took a military cheer and brings to the field to motivate his team before the start of every game.

It will be up to the All-Pro whether he wants to maximize the amount of money he receives or if he’s willing to take a hometown discount to keep the Saints’ core players intact.

This power is now needed more than ever as he needs to lead the team back in contention and right back to where they were two years ago as Super Bowl Champions.  In my eyes Brees is staying put in the Big Easy and the Saints will do what it takes to keep him a long time, despite the long term effects on a soon to be aging quarterback.

 

Follow Oren on  NFL Draft Insiders.  Follow him on twitter @NFLorentime