4. Drew Brees (QB-NO)
Given what he did to erase decades of futility in New Orleans by leading the Saints to a Super Bowl title in 2010, doing so against Peyton Manning in his prime, years removed from Hurricane Katrina, Brees is entitled to a grace period that should last until the end of his career.
However, to reward Brees for his years of service, New Orleans brass gifted the quarterback with a mega deal, valued at five years and over $100 million, with $60 million in guaranteed money, and a $37 million signing bonus. Brees, now 36, will enter 2015 by burdening his team with the largest cap hit in all of football, a $26.4 million figure. While that figure dips to $20.6 million in 2016, it rises again to an astronomical $27.4 million in 2017, the final year of the deal, which New Orleans cannot reconfigure unless it wants to give its star quarterback a new contract at the ripe old age of 38.
That said, by continuing to reward its quarterback, the Saints were forced to cut a promising, yet troubled pass rusher in Junior Galette, a casualty of benefitting the offense while diminishing the defense, the team’s biggest weakness.
In these last two years, Cam Newton, despite a porous offensive line, has lead Carolina to two straight division titles, and the Saints, once the darlings of the NFC South, are no longer favored in the division, especially troubling given that the Saints are no longer formidable at home: they were 3-5 at the Superdome in 2014, their worst mark under head coach Sean Payton and Brees.
Help has arrived for Brees in the form of the number 13 pick in the draft, Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, and center Max Unger, a two-time Pro Bowler who assisted Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch in pursuit of winning two consecutive Super Bowls, a pursuit that fell short in last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. Despite Unger’s arrival, Brees loses a security blanket in red zone target Jimmy Graham, traded to Seattle for Unger and a first round pick (the 31st selection in the draft, which became Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony). Undeniably, Graham’s chemistry fizzled with Brees by the end of their time together.
Could this miscommunication be a result of Graham’s regression or Brees’s decline? The Saints quarterback has a tension-addled 2015 to prove he is still a viable quarterback in the league and live up to his gargantuan deal.