MINNEAPOLIS -- Drew Brees knows all too well from experience that this one will "sting for a bit."
But he believes the New Orleans Saints are entering "a window of time here where we can really make a run at it." He reiterated Sunday that he expects to be a part of it.
Brees, who turns 39 on Monday, is an unrestricted free agent. He has a clause in his contract that forbids the Saints from using the franchise tag on him.
But Brees said after Sunday's stunning 29-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that "I do" expect to remain with the Saints going forward. He has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn't want to play anywhere else and fully expects to be re-signed by New Orleans.
When asked how hard it is to miss an opportunity such as this at this stage of his career, Brees acknowledged with a little laugh, "I mean, I'm more toward the end of my career than the beginning, I know that. That's all I divulge [about how long I plan on playing]. But the season ends, and this one will sting, but I think you look back at the things we accomplished and some of the memories that were made and the relationships that were built and the way this team came together. It really leaves me excited for the future of Saints football."
Brees compared this loss to a similarly gut-wrenching divisional-round loss at San Francisco after the 2011 season, when the Saints felt like they might have had their best team ever. He said he felt like both were a "Super Bowl contender."
"I'm hoping I'm a part of a few more that I feel that way about and we can make a run at it," Brees said. "Unfortunately, sometimes experience is a tough teacher, and things happen, and you can go one of two ways with it. Does it put you in the tank? Does it pull you apart? Or does it unite you and make you stronger and mold you and strengthen you? That's the outlook I'm taking, and I think that's the outlook that our entire team is taking."
The last time Brees re-upped with the Saints was Week 1 of the 2016 season, when he signed a one-year contract extension that paid him $24.25 million for the 2017 season. That is currently the fourth-highest average salary in the NFL, behind that of Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr and Andrew Luck, though fellow free agents Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo will likely raise the bar even higher this offseason.
It will be interesting to see if Brees settles for another one-year deal, given that the Saints have made it clear they'd prefer to go one year at a time at this stage of his career. Brees virtually surrendered his bargaining power by publicly stating that he doesn't want to test free agency.
The Saints considered drafting Patrick Mahomes in the first round this past April, which would have made Brees' future much cloudier. But as of now, they don't have a backup plan in waiting, and they have only one pick in the first two rounds of this year's draft (No. 27 overall).
Also, if the Saints let Brees go, he would cost $18 million in dead money against their salary cap -- another incentive for them to strike a new deal and keep spreading those cap costs into future years.