|Drew Brees' popularity in New Orleans insulates him from criticism. (US Presswire)|
When it comes to fans, and their venom directed at supposedly greedy players wanting new contracts, one certain group of players seems to be immune to it:
The "face-of the-franchise player" -- or FOTFP for short.
In two cities right now, two of the smaller-market teams are dealing with contract issues with their marquee player, the player you immediately associate with that team when its name is mentioned.
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Say New Orleans Saints, and you think Drew Brees and his amazing passing game.
Say Jacksonville Jaguars, and you think Maurice Jones-Drew and his league-leading rushing game.
Both are sitting out their team's offseason work as they look to get new contracts.
Brees is a free agent who was given the franchise tag by the Saints, but would rather have a long-term deal. He hasn't signed the franchise contract yet and has said he won't, which is why he's not taking part in team activities.
Jones-Drew has two years left on a contract the Jaguars signed him to in 2009. While he hasn't actually come out and said he wants a new deal, sources in the organization have said he's been asking for one for a while. His absence from team activities is contract-related -- make no mistake about it.
Both players are often lauded for their work, their drive, their dedication to the game and, more importantly, their production.
They are stars, vital pieces of their team's offenses.
They are also favorite sons in their respective cities.
But let's cut the bull: They, like all the NFL players, are about themselves.
I get it. I would be too.
These are the earning years. Go for the cash-dash.
But don't act like you aren't. Don't act like you are different from the rest of the NFL players trying to cash in big, some who have earned total disdain from the fans because of their desire to get new deals.
I often find it funny that some players who want new deals are called "punks" in some circles, while the FOTFP often get free passes. Remember all the names DeSean Jackson was called last season? Let's take a closer look at the Brees and Jones-Drew situations.
Brees has been tendered a one-year franchise tag that would pay him $16.371 million if he signed it. Of course, he'd rather have a long-term deal with $60 million or so in guaranteed money. Who wouldn't?
The Saints are reportedly using that franchise number to negotiate a long-term deal for Brees, offering one that averages about $19 million a season. Brees is seeking something above $20 million a year and the two sides are said to be about $2 million per season apart.
Brees said last week he is frustrated by the talks and there is talk he won't sign the franchise tag if he doesn't get a new deal.
That's garbage. Brees loves football too much to sit out, and the Saints know it.
Yes, they need him more now than ever to help soothe the mess that Bountygate has become. With Sean Payton suspended for the season, Brees is the offense.
So this has essentially become a big game of chicken. Who swerves first?
Since signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees has often talked about his love of the city of New Orleans, and he truly has become involved in helping to restore the city after Hurricane Katrina. They love him there, and not just for football. It's his home. There are some in the city who have taken to calling him "Brees-us." There are no reports of seeing him walk on the Mississippi River just yet, though.
Then there are those fans who say if Brees cared so much, why did he turn down the Saints deal when he could have given them a better chance to re-sign All-Pro guard
That's not his job. I always say when a player does that he's cheating himself. You get what you can and make the organization worry about fitting in the other pieces.
Brees is doing the same. Just stop hiding behind the "I-care-about-the-city" crap. Brees is also a favorite of many in the national media, and his agent, Tom Condon, is as well. That's why Brees gets a pass from some. I like Brees as a player. No, I love him as a player.
What's not to like? He is as cerebral a passer as there is in the game. He knows what a defense is doing often before they do. It's amazing to watch. It's why he broke Dan Marino's single-season mark for passing yards last season. His arm is seemingly stronger than before he had shoulder surgery in 2005, making him even tougher to defend.
There are those in the media who wax poetic about what Brees has meant to the city of New Orleans, putting him on a pedestal higher than the top of the Superdome. Good for him that he cares. But that matters none here. This is about football. And as far as football goes, the Saints have made a fair offer and he's dug in for more.
That's called negotiating. It's also called not being different from the rest of the Saints roster or anybody else in the NFL.
As for Jones-Drew, he has two years and $9.5 million remaining on the five-year, $31.35 million contract he signed in April of 2009. When he signed that deal, he had one year left on his rookie deal and that contract made him one of the top-three paid backs in the league.
Jones-Drew will be 29 when his current deal expires. He is smart enough to know that backs nearing 30 usually don't get big deals, which is why he wants one now. That's understandable.
It's also the reason why the Jaguars won't give him one. Let him play out this deal, and then see what happens. This isn't a back league anymore, and teams are more and more reluctant to pay backs.
Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing last year for a team that was last in passing. That speaks volumes about his talent. But in watching tape of his runs, I think he left yards on the field. He turned many 3-yard gains into 7-yard gains, but also turned potential 20-yard gains into 7-yard gains.
Jaguars sources say he isn't nearly as explosive as he used to be, and I would agree.
Jones-Drew has always stayed away from OTA work since his rookie season, but this is a new staff for him, the first time for that in his career, and it's a new offense. That makes it different.
Yet as FOTFP he is seemingly getting a pass from the fans for not being around Jacksonville, even if the work isn't mandatory.
The good thing is that with Jones-Drew gone, the team can start morphing from being so run-heavy to a team that is built around the passing game.
Any team that is run-heavy is doing things the wrong way. Blaine Gabbert needs to become the Jaguars FOTFP.
If he does, down the road he, too, will get a free pass when it comes to contract issues.
FOTFPs truly are in a league of their own.