The San Diego Chargers haven't made an announcement, but they've made a decision -- and they're expected to declare later this week that they will protect quarterback Drew Brees for another year by making him the team's franchise player.
|Few imagined that Drew Brees' season would end in Hawaii. (AP)|
The club will do the right thing with Brees, which is to keep him off the free-agent market and review its options -- including trading the 26-year-old quarterback for a first-round draft choice.
But league sources insist that San Diego general manager A.J. Smith has no intention of turning loose Brees, whose contract expires in March, and that the Chargers will keep him another season, evaluate his performance, then address his future this time next year.
If Brees plays as he did in 2004 when he led the club to the AFC West title, threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes, had the NFL's third-highest passer rating and reached his first Pro Bowl, the Chargers are expected to move to re-sign him.
Only here's where you might be surprised. NFL sources indicated that Smith, who should be the league's executive of the year for turning a perennial doormat into a division champion, isn't averse to making Brees a franchise player a second straight year -- much as Seattle did with tackle Walter Jones and St. Louis did with tackle Orlando Pace. And don't ask me how that goes over with Brees.
He already is on record as saying he wants a multiyear deal, and he might insist on one this year after the Chargers make their announcement. But it's not going to happen, largely because the Chargers want to see what they have in Brees -- who produced three ordinary years and one memorable one with the club -- and don't want to move on without Rivers.
The popular belief was that if Brees were to replicate last season, that multi-year deal was a cinch for 2006. But those who know Smith know how much he and the club value Rivers, and they said Smith might be reluctant to make a long-term commitment to Brees because of his commitment to Rivers.
From the Chargers' perspective that would be six years, the length of the deal Rivers signed last summer. But Smith's commitment to Rivers transcends contractual terms. Since acquiring the former North Carolina State quarterback, Smith has seen nothing to convince him that Rivers cannot and will not be a franchise quarterback.
So conventional wisdom says you don't tie up megabucks in one position in today's NFL; but since when did conventional wisdom handcuff Smith? He's the guy who had the guts to cut his losses with wide receiver David Boston and defensive end Marcellus Wiley. He had the foresight to draft a punter when Pro Bowler Darren Bennett was on the roster. He swung the deal for AWOL wide receiver Keenan McCardell.
And he drafted Eli Manning after Manning warned that he wouldn't go to San Diego.
"All I care about is winning," Smith once said. "It's all about winning and moving forward and doing what it takes."