NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees gained additional leverage in his protracted contract talks with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday when an arbitrator in Philadelphia ruled in Brees' favor in a dispute over how much the Saints would have to pay the star quarterback if they applied the franchise tag to him again in 2013.
The Saints have already used the tag on Brees for 2012, meaning he can't negotiate with another team and could be forced to settle for a one-year, $16.3 million deal if he cannot reach a new long-term deal by a July 16 deadline specified in the league's collective bargaining agreement.
System arbitrator Stephen Burbank's ruling Tuesday said if New Orleans tries to tag Brees a second year in a row, he would be entitled to a 44 percent raise to about $23.5 million because it would be his third-career franchise tag. The NFL had argued Brees would be due a 20 percent raise because it would have been only his second franchise tag with one team.
Burbank, however, ruled that while the NFL's CBA has some ambiguity on the matter, it is clear that the overarching purpose of the language regarding multiple franchise tags is meant to protect players from being denied their rights to free agency for an undue length of their careers.
"The arbitrator properly rejected the NFL's strained interpretation of the CBA language, which ignored the fact that a franchise player designation is a narrow exception to the overall free agency structure," the NFL Players Association said in a written statement after Burbank's ruling. "This ruling will help all franchise players in the future. We are very happy that Drew Brees has clarification on this matter, and we hope that it facilitates a successful negotiation for Drew and the Saints."
Brees has so far skipped the Saints' offseason practices while holding out for a new long-term contract with New Orleans.
New Orleans designated Brees, 33, its franchise player in March after the club was unable to reach a new long-term extension with the record-setting quarterback before his previous six-year, $60 million contract expired.
During the past six seasons, Brees has not only led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title, but has completed more passes (2,488) for more yards (28,394) and more touchdowns (201) than any other quarterback in the NFL. His 67.8 percent completion rate spanning the past six seasons also tops the league.
In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a completion percentage of 71.2. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set a new NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474.