The quarterback dominoes starting falling earlier than expected Tuesday with the news that Alex Smith will be traded to the Washington Redskins and sign a four-year contract extension worth $94 million, including $71 million in guarantees.
And definitely don't expect Brees' next contract to look anything like whatever megadeal Kirk Cousins winds up signing or whatever extensions Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan eventually sign, among others.
Brees might get a bigger average salary than Smith's reported $23.25 million per year but won't get anywhere near the amount of guaranteed money Smith will.
The Saints have made it clear that they only want to pay Brees one year at a time now that he is 39 years old. And Brees has been willing to play ball.
Two years ago, Brees settled for a one-year, $24.25 million extension when he was heading into the final year of his deal. Last year, Brees and the Saints didn't even talk about an extension and allowed his contract to run out.
There is no reason to expect things to change now. If Brees didn't demand long-term security when he was 37 or 38 years old, why would he suddenly demand it now?
And if he didn't threaten to leave when the Saints were 7-9 three seasons in a row, why would he threaten to leave now that the Saints have built a championship-caliber defense, offensive line and run game around him?
Brees' willingness to get paid one year at a time is his version of the Tom Brady "hometown" discount that so many fans have been hoping he would accept later in his career.
Things would be different if Brees threatened to hit the open market and make the Saints bid against several other teams desperate for a quarterback. But he hasn't done that. He has repeatedly insisted that he doesn't want to play anywhere else and wants to get a deal done with New Orleans before free agency begins in March.
I know what you're thinking -- players and coaches say that all the time. But Brees has backed up his words with actions during the last two years.
Meanwhile, the Saints' thinking is pretty obvious. They don’t want to guarantee Brees' salary into his 40s because of the possibility of injury or a sudden drop-off in performance. They already have a "dead money" hit of $18 million scheduled to hit their books whenever Brees' contract expires (which they planned -- assuming that whatever young quarterback follows him will still be on a rookie contract whenever that time comes). But they don't want to wind up adding to that dead money if his career ends earlier than expected.
The Saints have not yet found Brees' future replacement, though. And they have been willing to pay fair market value for Brees on an annual basis without demanding that he take less out of loyalty. So I expect either a one- or two-year deal worth around $25 million per year. If the Saints guarantee more than $25 million, it won't be a lot more.
It would be fascinating to see what the Saints would do if Brees demanded $70 million-plus in guaranteed money -- or even half of that amount. Would they really consider letting the greatest player in franchise history walk with no backup plan in place yet?
That's a moot point, though, because Brees hasn’t forced them to make that choice.